The Afghan Wars 1839-42 and 1878-80
Archibald Forbes

Part 1 out of 5

Produced by Eric Eldred, Thomas Berger,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

[Illustration: Sir Frederick Roberts]

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THE AFGHAN WARS 1839-42 AND 1878-80


With Portraits and Plans

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_The Portraits of Sir G. Pollock and Sir F. Roberts are engraved by
permission of Messrs Henry Graves & Co._

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Since it was the British complications with Persia which mainly furnished
what pretext there was for the invasion of Afghanistan by an Anglo-Indian
army in 1839, some brief recital is necessary of the relations between
Great Britain and Persia prior to that aggression.

By a treaty, concluded between England and Persia in 1814, the former
state bound itself, in case of the invasion of Persia by any European
nation, to aid the Shah either with troops from India or by the payment
of an annual subsidy in support of his war expenses. It was a dangerous
engagement, even with the _caveat_ rendering the undertaking inoperative
if such invasion should be provoked by Persia. During the fierce struggle
of 1825-7, between Abbas Meerza and the Russian General Paskevitch,
England refrained from supporting Persia either with men or with money,
and when prostrate Persia was in financial extremities because of the war
indemnity which the treaty of Turkmanchai imposed upon her, England took
advantage of her needs by purchasing the cancellation of the inconvenient
obligation at the cheap cost of about L300,000. It was the natural result
of this transaction that English influence with the Persian Court should
sensibly decline, and it was not less natural that in conscious weakness
Persia should fall under the domination of Russian influence.

Futteh Ali, the old Shah of Persia, died in 1834, and was succeeded by
his grandson Prince Mahomed Meerza, a young man who inherited much of the
ambition of his gallant father Abbas Meerza. His especial aspiration,
industriously stimulated by his Russian advisers, urged him to the
enterprise of conquering the independent principality of Herat, on the
western border of Afghanistan. Herat was the only remnant of Afghan
territory that still remained to a member of the legitimate royal house.
Its ruler was Shah Kamran, son of that Mahmoud Shah who, after ousting
his brother Shah Soojah from the throne of Cabul, had himself been driven
from that elevation, and had retired to the minor principality of Herat.
The young Shah of Persia was not destitute of justification for his
designs on Herat. That this was so was frankly admitted by Mr Ellis, the
British envoy to his Court, who wrote to his Government that the Shah had
fair claim to the sovereignty of Afghanistan as far as Ghuznee, and that
Kamran's conduct in occupying part of the Persian province of Seistan had
given the Shah 'a full justification for commencing hostilities against

The serious phase of the situation for England and India was that Russian
influence was behind Persia in this hostile action against Herat. Mr
Ellis pointed out that in the then existing state of relations between
Persia and Russia, the progress of the former in Afghanistan was
tantamount to the advancement of the latter. But unfortunately there
remained valid an article in the treaty of 1814 to the effect that, in
case of war between the Afghans and the Persians, the English Government
should not interfere with either party unless when called on by both to
mediate. In vain did Ellis and his successor M'Neill remonstrate with the
Persian monarch against the Herat expedition. An appeal to St Petersburg,
on the part of Great Britain, produced merely an evasive reply. How
diplomatic disquietude had become intensified may be inferred from this,
that whereas in April 1836 Ellis wrote of Persia as a Russian first
parallel of attack against India, Lord Auckland, then Governor-General of
India, directed M'Neill, in the early part of 1837, to urge the Shah to
abandon his enterprise, on the ground that he (the Governor-General)
'must view with umbrage and displeasure schemes of interference and
conquest on our western frontier.'

The Shah, unmoved by the representations of the British envoy, marched on
Herat, and the siege was opened on November 23d, 1837. Durand, a capable
critic, declares that the strength of the place, the resolution of the
besiegers, the skill of their Russian military advisers, and the
gallantry of the besieged, were alike objects of much exaggeration. 'The
siege was from first to last thoroughly ill-conducted, and the defence,
in reality not better managed, owed its _eclat_ to Persian ignorance,
timidity and supineness. The advice of Pottinger, the gallant English
officer who assisted the defence, was seldom asked, and still more seldom
taken; and no one spoke more plainly of the conduct of both besieged and
besiegers than did Pottinger himself.' M'Neill effected nothing definite
during a long stay in the Persian camp before Herat, the counteracting
influence of the Russian envoy being too strong with the Shah; and the
British representative, weary of continual slights, at length quitted the
Persian camp completely foiled. After six days' bombardment, the Persians
and their Russian auxiliaries delivered an assault in force on June 23d,
1838. It failed, with heavy loss, and the dispirited Shah determined on
raising the siege. His resolution was quickened by the arrival of Colonel
Stoddart in his camp, with the information that a military force from
Bombay, supported by ships of war, had landed on the island of Karrack in
the Persian Gulf, and with the peremptory ultimatum to the Shah that he
must retire from Herat at once. Lord Palmerston, in ordering this
diversion in the Gulf, had thought himself justified by circumstances in
overriding the clear and precise terms of an article in a treaty to which
England had on several occasions engaged to adhere. As for the Shah, he
appears to have been relieved by the ultimatum. On the 9th September he
mounted his horse and rode away from Herat. The siege had lasted nine and
a half months. To-day, half a century after Simonich the Russian envoy
followed Mahomed Shah from battered but unconquered Herat, that city is
still an Afghan place of arms.

Shah Soojah-ool Moolk, a grandson of the illustrious Ahmed Shah, reigned
in Afghanistan from 1803 till 1809. His youth had been full of trouble
and vicissitude. He had been a wanderer, on the verge of starvation, a
pedlar and a bandit, who raised money by plundering caravans. His courage
was lightly reputed, and it was as a mere creature of circumstance that
he reached the throne. His reign was perturbed, and in 1809 he was a
fugitive and an exile. Runjeet Singh, the Sikh ruler of the Punjaub,
defrauded him of the famous Koh-i-noor, which is now the most precious of
the crown jewels of England, and plundered and imprisoned the fallen man.
Shah Soojah at length escaped from Lahore. After further misfortunes he
at length reached the British frontier station of Loodianah, and in 1816
became a pensioner of the East India Company.

After the downfall of Shah Soojah, Afghanistan for many years was a prey
to anarchy. At length in 1826, Dost Mahomed succeeded in making himself
supreme at Cabul, and this masterful man thenceforward held sway until
his death in 1863, uninterruptedly save during the three years of the
British occupation. Dost Mahomed was neither kith nor kin to the
legitimate dynasty which he displaced. His father Poyndah Khan was an
able statesman and gallant soldier. He left twenty-one sons, of whom
Futteh Khan was the eldest, and Dost Mahomed one of the youngest. Futteh
Khan was the Warwick of Afghanistan, but the Afghan 'Kingmaker' had no
Barnet as the closing scene of his chequered life. Falling into hostile
hands, he was blinded and scalped. Refusing to betray his brothers, he
was leisurely cut to pieces by the order and in the presence of the
monarch whom he had made. His young brother Dost Mahomed undertook to
avenge his death. After years of varied fortunes the Dost had worsted all
his enemies, and in 1826 he became the ruler of Cabul. Throughout his
long reign Dost Mahomed was a strong and wise ruler. His youth had been
neglected and dissolute. His education was defective, and he had been
addicted to wine. Once seated on the throne, the reformation of our Henry
Fifth was not more thorough than was that of Dost Mahomed. He taught
himself to read and write, studied the Koran, became scrupulously
abstemious, assiduous in affairs, no longer truculent but courteous. He
is said to have made a public acknowledgment of the errors of his
previous life, and a firm profession of reformation; nor did his after
life belie the pledges to which he committed himself. There was a fine
rugged honesty in his nature, and a streak of genuine chivalry;
notwithstanding the despite he suffered at our hands, he had a real
regard for the English, and his loyalty to us was broken only by his
armed support of the Sikhs in the second Punjaub war.

The fallen Shah Soojah, from his asylum in Loodianah, was continually
intriguing for his restoration. His schemes were long inoperative, and it
was not until 1832 that certain arrangements were entered into between
him and the Maharaja Runjeet Singh. To an application on Shah Soojah's
part for countenance and pecuniary aid, the Anglo-Indian Government
replied that to afford him assistance would be inconsistent with the
policy of neutrality which the Government had imposed on itself; but it
unwisely contributed financially toward his undertaking by granting him
four months' pension in advance. Sixteen thousand rupees formed a scant
war fund with which to attempt the recovery of a throne, but the Shah
started on his errand in February 1833. After a successful contest with
the Ameers of Scinde, he marched on Candahar, and besieged that fortress.
Candahar was in extremity when Dost Mahomed, hurrying from Cabul,
relieved it, and joining forces with its defenders, he defeated and
routed Shah Soojah, who fled precipitately, leaving behind him his
artillery and camp equipage, During the Dost's absence in the south,
Runjeet Singh's troops crossed the Attock, occupied the Afghan province
of Peshawur, and drove the Afghans into the Khyber Pass. No subsequent
efforts on Dost Mahomed's part availed to expel the Sikhs from Peshawur,
and suspicious of British connivance with Runjeet Singh's successful
aggression, he took into consideration the policy of fortifying himself
by a counter alliance with Persia. As for Shah Soojah, he had crept back
to his refuge at Loodianah.

Lord Auckland succeeded Lord William Bentinck as Governor-General of
India in March 1836. In reply to Dost Mahomed's letter of congratulation,
his lordship wrote: 'You are aware that it is not the practice of the
British Government to interfere with the affairs of other independent
states;' an abstention which Lord Auckland was soon to violate. He had
brought from England the feeling of disquietude in regard to the designs
of Persia and Russia which the communications of our envoy in Persia had
fostered in the Home Government, but it would appear that he was wholly
undecided what line of action to pursue. 'Swayed,' says Durand, 'by the
vague apprehensions of a remote danger entertained by others rather than
himself,' he despatched to Afghanistan Captain Burnes on a nominally
commercial mission, which, in fact, was one of political discovery, but
without definite instructions. Burnes, an able but rash and ambitious
man, reached Cabul in September 1837, two months before the Persian army
began the siege of Herat. He had a strong prepossession in favour of the
Dost, whose guest he had already been in 1832, and the policy he favoured
was not the revival of the legitimate dynasty in the person of Shah
Soojah, but the attachment of Dost Mahomed to British interests by
strengthening his throne and affording him British countenance.

Burnes sanguinely believed that he had arrived at Cabul in the nick of
time, for an envoy from the Shah of Persia was already at Candahar,
bearing presents and assurances of support. The Dost made no concealment
to Burnes of his approaches to Persia and Russia, in despair of British
good offices, and being hungry for assistance from any source to meet the
encroachments of the Sikhs, he professed himself ready to abandon his
negotiations with the western powers if he were given reason to expect
countenance and assistance at the hands of the Anglo-Indian Government.
Burnes communicated to his Government those friendly proposals,
supporting them by his own strong representations, and meanwhile, carried
away by enthusiasm, he exceeded his powers by making efforts to dissuade
the Candahar chiefs from the Persian alliance, and by offering to support
them with money to enable them to make head against the offensive, by
which Persia would probably seek to revenge the rejection of her
overtures. For this unauthorised excess of zeal Burnes was severely
reprimanded by his Government, and was directed to retract his offers to
the Candahar chiefs. The situation of Burnes in relation to the Dost was
presently complicated by the arrival at Cabul of a Russian officer
claiming to be an envoy from the Czar, whose credentials, however, were
regarded as dubious, and who, if that circumstance has the least weight,
was on his return to Russia utterly repudiated by Count Nesselrode. The
Dost took small account of this emissary, continuing to assure Burnes
that he cared for no connection except with the English, and Burnes
professed to his Government his fullest confidences in the sincerity of
those declarations. But the tone of Lord Auckland's reply, addressed to
the Dost, was so dictatorial and supercilious as to indicate the writer's
intention that it should give offence. It had that effect, and Burnes'
mission at once became hopeless. Yet, as a last resort, Dost Mahomed
lowered his pride so far as to write to the Governor-General imploring
him 'to remedy the grievances of the Afghans, and afford them some little
encouragement and power.' The pathetic representation had no effect. The
Russian envoy, who was profuse in his promises of everything which the
Dost was most anxious to obtain, was received into favour and treated
with distinction, and on his return journey he effected a treaty with the
Candahar chiefs, which was presently ratified by the Russian minister at
the Persian Court. Burnes, fallen into discredit at Cabul, quitted that
place in August 1838. He had not been discreet, but it was not his
indiscretion that brought about the failure of his mission. A nefarious
transaction, which Kaye denounces with the passion of a just indignation,
connects itself with Burnes' negotiations with the Dost; his official
correspondence was unscrupulously mutilated and garbled in the published
Blue Book with deliberate purpose to deceive the British public.

Burnes had failed because, since he had quitted India for Cabul, Lord
Auckland's policy had gradually altered. Lord Auckland had landed in
India in the character of a man of peace. That, so late as April 1837, he
had no design of obstructing the existing situation in Afghanistan is
proved by his written statement of that date, that 'the British
Government had resolved decidedly to discourage the prosecution by the
ex-king Shah Soojah-ool-Moolk, so long as he may remain under our
protection, of further schemes of hostility against the chiefs now in
power in Cabul and Candahar.' Yet, in the following June, he concluded a
treaty which sent Shah Soojah to Cabul, escorted by British bayonets. Of
this inconsistency no explanation presents itself. It was a far cry from
our frontier on the Sutlej to Herat in the confines of Central Asia--a
distance of more than 1200 miles, over some of the most arduous marching
ground in the known world. No doubt the Anglo-Indian Government was
justified in being somewhat concerned by the facts that a Persian army,
backed by Russian volunteers and Russian roubles, was besieging Herat,
and that Persian and Russian emissaries were at work in Afghanistan. Both
phenomena were rather of the 'bogey' character; how much so to-day shows
when the Afghan frontier is still beyond Herat, and when a descendant of
Dost Mahomed still sits in the Cabul _musnid_. But neither England nor
India scrupled to make the Karrack counter-threat which arrested the
siege of Herat; and the obvious policy as regarded Afghanistan was to
watch the results of the intrigues which were on foot, to ignore them
should they come to nothing, as was probable, to counteract them by
familiar methods if serious consequences should seem impending. Our
alliance with Runjeet Singh was solid, and the quarrel between Dost
Mahomed and him concerning the Peshawur province was notoriously easy of

On whose memory rests the dark shadow of responsibility for the first
Afghan war? The late Lord Broughton, who, when Sir John Cam Hobhouse, was
President of the Board of Control from 1835 to 1841, declared before a
House of Commons Committee, in 1851, 'The Afghan war was done by myself;
entirely without the privity of the Board of Directors.' The meaning of
that declaration, of course, was that it was the British Government of
the day which was responsible, acting through its member charged with the
control of Indian affairs; and further, that the directorate of the East
India Company was accorded no voice in the matter. But this utterance was
materially qualified by Sir J. C. Hobhouse's statement in the House of
Commons in 1842, that his despatch indicating the policy to be adopted,
and that written by Lord Auckland, informing him that the expedition had
already been undertaken, had crossed each other on the way.

It would be tedious to detail how Lord Auckland, under evil counsel,
gradually boxed the compass from peace to war. The scheme of action
embodied in the treaty which, in the early summer of 1838, was concluded
between the Anglo-Indian Government, Runjeet Singh, and Shah Soojah, was
that Shah Soojah, with a force officered from an Indian army, and paid by
British money, possessing also the goodwill and support of the Maharaja
of the Punjaub, should attempt the recovery of his throne without any
stiffening of British bayonets at his back. Then it was urged, and the
representation was indeed accepted, that the Shah would need the buttress
afforded by English troops, and that a couple of regiments only would
suffice to afford this prestige. But Sir Harry Fane, the
Commander-in-Chief, judiciously interposed his veto on the despatch of a
handful of British soldiers on so distant and hazardous an expedition.
Finally, the Governor-General, committed already to a mistaken line of
policy, and urged forward by those about him, took the unfortunate
resolution to gather together an Anglo-Indian army, and to send it, with
the ill-omened Shah Soojah on its shoulders, into the unknown and distant
wilds of Afghanistan. This action determined on, it was in accordance
with the Anglo-Indian fitness of things that the Governor-General should
promulgate a justificatory manifesto. Of this composition it is
unnecessary to say more than to quote Durand's observation that in it
'the words "justice and necessity" were applied in a manner for which
there is fortunately no precedent in the English language,' and Sir Henry
Edwardes' not less trenchant comment that 'the views and conduct of Dost
Mahomed were misrepresented with a hardihood which a Russian statesman
might have envied.'

All men whose experience gave weight to their words opposed this
'preposterous enterprise.' Mr Elphinstone, who had been the head of a
mission to Cabul thirty years earlier, held that 'if an army was sent up
the passes, and if we could feed it, no doubt we might take Cabul and set
up Shah Soojah; but it was hopeless to maintain him in a poor, cold,
strong and remote country, among so turbulent a people.' Lord William
Bentinck, Lord Auckland's predecessor, denounced the project as an act of
incredible folly. Marquis Wellesley regarded 'this wild expedition into a
distant region of rocks and deserts, of sands and ice and snow,' as an
act of infatuation. The Duke of Wellington pronounced with prophetic
sagacity, that the consequence of once crossing the Indus to settle a
government in Afghanistan would be a perennial march into that country.


The two main objects of the venturesome offensive movement to which Lord
Auckland had committed himself were, first, the raising of the Persian
siege of Herat if the place should hold out until reached--the recapture
of it if it should have fallen; and, secondly, the establishment of Shah
Soojah on the Afghan throne. The former object was the more pressing, and
time was very precious; but the distances in India are great, the means
of communication in 1838 did not admit of celerity, and the seasons
control the safe prosecution of military operations. Nevertheless, the
concentration of the army at the frontier station of Ferozepore was fully
accomplished toward the end of November. Sir Harry Fane was to be the
military head of the expedition, and he had just right to be proud of the
14,000 carefully selected and well-seasoned troops who constituted his
Bengal contingent. The force consisted of two infantry divisions, of
which the first, commanded by Major-General Sir Willoughby Cotton,
contained three brigades, commanded respectively by Colonels Sale, Nott,
and Dennis, of whom the two former were to attain high distinction within
the borders of Afghanistan. Major-General Duncan commanded the second
infantry division of the two brigades, of which one was commanded by
Colonel Roberts, the gallant father of a gallant son, the other by
Colonel Worsley. The 6000 troops raised for Shah Soojah, who were under
Fane's orders, and were officered from our army in India, had been
recently and hurriedly recruited, and although rapidly improving, were
not yet in a state of high efficiency. The contingent which the Bombay
Presidency was to furnish to the 'Army of the Indus,' and which landed
about the close of the year near the mouth of the Indus, was under the
command of General Sir John Keane, the Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay
army. The Bombay force was about 5000 strong.

Before the concentration at Ferozepore had been completed, Lord Auckland
received official intimation of the retreat of the Persians from before
Herat. With their departure had gone, also, the sole legitimate object of
the expedition; there remained but a project of wanton aggression and
usurpation. The Russo-Persian failure at Herat was scarcely calculated to
maintain in the astute and practical Afghans any hope of fulfilment of
the promises which the western powers had thrown about so lavishly, while
it made clear that, for some time at least to come, the Persians would
not be found dancing again to Russian fiddling. The abandonment of the
siege of Herat rendered the invasion of Afghanistan an aggression
destitute even of pretext. The Governor-General endeavoured to justify
his resolution to persevere in it by putting forth the argument that its
prosecution was required, 'alike in observation of the treaties entered
into with Runjeet Singh and Shah Soojah as by paramount considerations of
defensive policy.' A remarkable illustration of 'defensive policy' to
take the offensive against a remote country from whose further confines
had faded away foiled aggression, leaving behind nothing but a bitter
consciousness of broken promises! As for the other plea, the tripartite
treaty contained no covenant that we should send a corporal's guard
across our frontier. If Shah Soojah had a powerful following in
Afghanistan, he could regain his throne without our assistance; if he had
no holding there, it was for us a truly discreditable enterprise to foist
him on a recalcitrant people at the point of the bayonet.

One result of the tidings from Herat was to reduce by a division the
strength of the expeditionary force. Fane, who had never taken kindly to
the project, declined to associate himself with the diminished array that
remained. The command of the Bengal column fell to Sir Willoughby Cotton,
with whom as his aide-de-camp rode that Henry Havelock whose name twenty
years later was to ring through India and England. Duncan's division was
to stand fast at Ferozepore as a support, by which disposition the
strength of the Bengal marching force was cut down to about 9500 fighting
men. After its junction with the Bombay column, the army would be 14,500
strong, without reckoning the Shah's contingent. There was an interlude
at Ferozepore of reviews and high jinks with the shrewd, debauched old
Runjeet Singh; of which proceedings Havelock in his narrative of the
expedition gives a detailed account, dwelling with extreme disapprobation
on Runjeet's addiction to a 'pet tipple' strong enough to lay out the
hardest drinker in the British camp, but which the old reprobate quaffed
freely without turning a hair.

At length, on December 10th, 1838, Cotton began the long march which was
not to terminate at Cabul until August 6th of the following year. The
most direct route was across the Punjaub, and up the passes from
Peshawur, but the Governor-General had shrunk from proposing to Runjeet
Singh that the force should march through his territories, thinking it
enough that the Maharaja had permitted Shah Soojah's heir, Prince Timour,
to go by Peshawur to Cabul, had engaged to support him with a Sikh force,
and had agreed to maintain an army of reserve at Peshawur. The chosen
route was by the left bank of the Sutlej to its junction with the Indus,
down the left bank of the Indus to the crossing point at Roree, and from
Sukkur across the Scinde and northern Belooch provinces by the Bolan and
Kojuk passes to Candahar, thence by Khelat-i-Ghilzai and Ghuznee to
Cabul. This was a line excessively circuitous, immensely long, full of
difficulties, and equally disadvantageous as to supplies and
communications. On the way the column would have to effect a junction
with the Bombay force, which at Vikkur was distant 800 miles from
Ferozepore. Of the distance of 850 miles from the latter post to Candahar
the first half to the crossing of the Indus presented no serious
difficulties, but from Sukkur beyond the country was inhospitable and
cruelly rugged. It needed little military knowledge to realise how more
and yet more precarious would become the communications as the chain
lengthened, to discern that from Ferozepore to the Indus they would be at
the mercy of the Sikhs, and to comprehend this also, that a single
serious check, in or beyond the passes, would involve all but inevitable

Shah Soojah and his levies moved independently some marches in advance of
Cotton. The Dooranee monarch-elect had already crossed the Indus, and was
encamped at Shikarpore, when he was joined by Mr William Hay Macnaghten,
of the Company's Civil Service, the high functionary who had been
gazetted as 'Envoy and Minister on the part of the Government of India at
the Court of Shah Soojah-ool-Moolk.' Durand pronounces the selection an
unhappy one, 'for Macnaghten, long accustomed to irresponsible office,
inexperienced in men, and ignorant of the country and people of
Afghanistan, was, though an erudite Arabic scholar, neither practised in
the field of Asiatic intrigue nor a man of action. His ambition was,
however, great, and the expedition, holding out the promise of
distinction and honours, had met with his strenuous advocacy.' Macnaghten
was one of the three men who chiefly inspired Lord Auckland with the
policy to which he had committed himself. He was the negotiator of the
tripartite treaty. He was now on his way toward a region wherein he was
to concern himself in strange adventures, the outcome of which was to
darken his reputation, consign him to a sudden cruel death, bring awful
ruin on the enterprise he had fostered, and inflict incalculable damage
on British prestige in India.

Marching through Bhawulpore and Northern Scinde, without noteworthy
incident save heavy losses of draught cattle, Cotton's army reached
Roree, the point at which the Indus was to be crossed, in the third week
of January 1839. Here a delay was encountered. The Scinde Ameers were,
with reason, angered by the unjust and exacting terms which Pottinger had
been instructed to enforce on them. They had been virtually independent
of Afghanistan for nearly half a century; there was now masterfully
demanded of them quarter of a million sterling in name of back tribute,
and this in the face of the fact that they held a solemn release by Shah
Soojah of all past and future claims. When they demurred to this, and to
other exactions, they were peremptorily told that 'neither the ready
power to crush and annihilate them, nor the will to call it into action,
was wanting if it appeared requisite, however remotely, for the safety
and integrity of the Anglo-Indian empire and frontier.'

It was little wonder that the Ameers were reluctant to fall in with terms
advanced so arrogantly. Keane marched up the right bank of the Indus to
within a couple of marches of Hyderabad, and having heard of the
rejection by the Ameers of Pottinger's terms, and of the gathering of
some 20,000 armed Belooches about the capital, he called for the
co-operation of part of the Bengal column in a movement on Hyderabad.
Cotton started on his march down the left bank, on January Jeth, with
5600 men. Under menaces so ominous the unfortunate Ameers succumbed.
Cotton returned to Roree; the Bengal column crossed the Indus, and on
February 20th its headquarters reached Shikarpore. Ten days later,
Cotton, leading the advance, was in Dadur, at the foot of the Bolan Pass,
having suffered heavily in transport animals almost from the start.
Supplies were scarce in a region so barren, but with a month's partial
food on his beasts of burden he quitted Dadur March 10th, got safely, if
toilsomely, through the Bolan, and on 26th reached Quetta, where he was
to halt for orders. Shah Soojah and Keane followed, their troops
suffering not a little from scarcity of supplies and loss of animals.

Keane's error in detaining Cotton at Quetta until he should arrive proved
itself in the semi-starvation to which the troops of the Bengal column
were reduced. The Khan of Khelat, whether from disaffection or inability,
left unfulfilled his promise to supply grain, and the result of the
quarrel which Burnes picked with him was that he shunned coming in and
paying homage to Shah Soojah, for which default he was to suffer cruel
and unjustifiable ruin. The sepoys were put on half, the camp followers
on quarter rations, and the force for eleven days had been idly consuming
the waning supplies, when at length, on April 6th, Keane came into camp,
having already formally assumed the command of the whole army, and made
certain alterations in its organisation and subsidiary commands. There
still remained to be traversed 147 miles before Candahar should be
reached, and the dreaded Kojuk Pass had still to be penetrated.

Keane was a soldier who had gained a reputation for courage in Egypt and
the Peninsula. He was indebted to the acuteness of his engineer and the
valour of his troops, for the peerage conferred on him for Ghuznee, and
it cannot be said that during his command in Afghanistan he disclosed any
marked military aptitude. But he had sufficient perception to recognise
that he had brought the Bengal column to the verge of starvation in
Quetta, and sufficient common sense to discern that, since if it remained
there it would soon starve outright, the best thing to be done was to
push it forward with all possible speed into a region where food should
be procurable. Acting on this reasoning, he marched the day after his
arrival. Cotton, while lying in Quetta, had not taken the trouble to
reconnoitre the passes in advance, far less to make a practicable road
through the Kojuk defile if that should prove the best route. The
resolution taken to march through it, two days were spent in making the
pass possible for wheels; and from the 13th to the 21st the column was
engaged in overcoming the obstacles it presented, losing in the task,
besides, much baggage, supplies, transport and ordnance stores. Further
back in the Bolan Willshire with the Bombay column was faring worse; he
was plundered severely by tribal marauders.

By May 4th the main body of the army was encamped in the plain of
Candahar. From the Kojuk, Shah Soojah and his contingent had led the
advance toward the southern capital of the dominions from the throne of
which he had been cast down thirty years before. The Candahar chiefs had
meditated a night attack on his raw troops, but Macnaghten's intrigues
and bribes had wrought defection in their camp; and while Kohun-dil-Khan
and his brothers were in flight to Girishk on the Helmund, the infamous
Hadji Khan Kakur led the venal herd of turncoat sycophants to the feet of
the claimant who came backed by the British gold, which Macnaghten was
scattering abroad with lavish hand. Shah Soojah recovered from his
trepidation, hurried forward in advance of his troops, and entered
Candahar on April 24th. His reception was cold. The influential chiefs
stood aloof, abiding the signs of the times; the populace of Candahar
stood silent and lowering. Nor did the sullenness abate when the presence
of a large army with its followers promptly raised the price of grain, to
the great distress of the poor. The ceremony of the solemn recognition of
the Shah, held close to the scene of his defeat in 1834, Havelock
describes as an imposing pageant, with homagings and royal salutes,
parade of troops and presentation of _nuzzurs_; but the arena set apart
for the inhabitants was empty, spite of Eastern love for a _tamasha_, and
the display of enthusiasm was confined to the immediate retainers of His

The Shah was eager for the pursuit of the fugitive chiefs; but the troops
were jaded and sickly, the cavalry were partially dismounted, and what
horses remained were feeble skeletons. The transport animals needed
grazing and rest, and their loss of numbers to be made good. The crops
were not yet ripe, and provisions were scant and dear. When, on May 9th,
Sale marched toward Girishk, his detachment carried half rations, and his
handful of regular cavalry was all that two regiments could furnish.
Reaching Girishk, he found that the chiefs had fled toward Seistan, and
leaving a regiment of the Shah's contingent in occupation, he returned to

Macnaghten professed the belief, and perhaps may have deluded himself
into it, that Candahar had received the Shah with enthusiasm. He was
sanguine that the march to Cabul would be unopposed, and he urged on
Keane, who was wholly dependent on the Envoy for political information,
to move forward at once, lightening the difficulties of the march by
leaving the Bombay troops at Candahar. But Keane declined, on the advice
of Thomson, his chief engineer, who asked significantly whether he had
found the information given him by the political department in any single
instance correct. Food prospects, however, did not improve at Candahar,
and leaving a strong garrison there as well, curious to say, as the siege
train which with arduous labour had been brought up the passes, Keane
began the march to Cabul on June 27th. He had supplies only sufficient to
carry his army thither on half rations. Macnaghten had lavished money so
freely that the treasury chest was all but empty. How the Afghans
regarded the invasion was evinced by condign slaughter of our stragglers.

As the army advanced up the valley of the Turnuk, the climate became more
temperate, the harvest was later, and the troops improved in health and
spirit. Concentrating his forces, Keane reached Ghuznee on July 21st. The
reconnaissance he made proved that fortress occupied in force. The
outposts driven in, and a close inspection made, the works were found
stronger than had been represented, and its regular reduction was out of
the question without the battering train which Keane had allowed himself
to be persuaded into leaving behind. A wall some 70 feet high and a wet
ditch in its front made mining and escalade alike impracticable. Thomson,
however, noticed that the road and bridge to the Cabul gate were intact.
He obtained trustworthy information that up to a recent date, while all
the other gates had been built up, the Cabul gate had not been so dealt
with. As he watched, a horseman was seen to enter by it. This was
conclusive. The ground within 400 yards of the gate offered good
artillery positions. Thomson therefore reported that although the
operation was full of risk, and success if attained must cost dear, yet
in the absence of a less hazardous method of reduction there offered a
fair chance of success in an attempt to blow open the Cabul gate, and
then carry the place by a _coup de main_. Keane was precluded from the
alternative of masking the place and continuing his advance by the all
but total exhaustion of his supplies, which the capture of Ghuznee would
replenish, and he therefore resolved on an assault by the Cabul gate.

During the 21st July the army circled round the place, and camped to the
north of it on the Cabul road. The following day was spent in
preparations, and in defeating an attack made on the Shah's contingent by
several thousand Ghilzai tribesmen of the adjacent hill country. In the
gusty darkness of the early morning of the 23d the field artillery was
placed in battery on the heights opposite the northern face of the
fortress. The 13th regiment was extended in skirmishing order in the
gardens under the wall of this face, and a detachment of sepoys was
detailed to make a false attack on the eastern face. Near the centre of
the northern face was the Cabul gate, in front of which lay waiting for
the signal, a storming party consisting of the light companies of the
four European regiments, under command of Colonel Dennie of the 13th. The
main column consisted of two European regiments and the support of a
third, the whole commanded by Brigadier Sale; the native regiments
constituted the reserve. All those dispositions were completed by three
A.M., and, favoured by the noise of the wind and the darkness, without
alarming the garrison.

Punctually at this hour the little party of engineers charged with the
task of blowing in the gate started forward on the hazardous errand.
Captain Peat of the Bombay Engineers was in command. Durand, a young
lieutenant of Bengal Engineers, who was later to attain high distinction,
was entrusted with the service of heading the explosion party. The
latter, leading the party, had advanced unmolested to within 150 yards of
the works, when a challenge, a shot and a shout gave intimation of his
detection. A musketry fire was promptly opened by the garrison from the
battlements, and blue lights illuminated the approach to the gate, but in
the fortunate absence of fire from the lower works the bridge was safely
crossed, and Peat with his handful of linesmen halted in a sallyport to
cover the explosion operation. Durand advanced to the gate, his sappers
piled their powder bags against it and withdrew; Durand and his sergeant
uncoiled the hose, ignited the quick-match under a rain from the
battlements of bullets and miscellaneous missiles, and then retired to
cover out of reach of the explosion.

At the sound of the first shot from the battlements, Keane's cannon had
opened their fire. The skirmishers in the gardens engaged in a brisk
fusillade. The rattle of Hay's musketry was heard from the east. The
garrison was alert in its reply. The northern ramparts became a sheet of
flame, and everywhere the cannonade and musketry fire waxed in noise and
volume. Suddenly, as the day was beginning to dawn, a dull, heavy sound
was heard by the head of the waiting column, scarce audible elsewhere
because of the boisterous wind and the din of the firing. A pillar of
black smoke shot up from where had been the Afghan gate, now shattered by
the 300 pounds of gunpowder which Durand had exploded against it. The
signal to the storming party was to be the 'advance' sounded by the
bugler who accompanied Peat. But the bugler had been shot through the
head. Durand could not find Peat. Going back through the bullets to the
nearest party of infantry, he experienced some delay, but at last the
column was apprised that all was right, the 'advance' was sounded, Dennie
and his stormers sped forward, and Sale followed at the head of the main

After a temporary check to the latter, because of a misconception, it
pushed on in close support of Dennie. That gallant soldier and his
gallant followers had rushed into the smoking and gloomy archway to find
themselves met hand to hand by the Afghan defenders, who had recovered
from their surprise. Nothing could be distinctly seen in the narrow
gorge, but the clash of sword blade against bayonet was heard on every
side. The stormers had to grope their way between the yet standing walls
in a dusk which the glimmer of the blue light only made more perplexing.
But some elbow room was gradually gained, and then, since there was
neither time nor space for methodic street fighting, each loaded section
gave its volley and then made way for the next, which, crowding to the
front, poured a deadly discharge at half pistol-shot into the densely
crowded defenders. Thus the storming party won steadily its way, till at
length Dennie and his leading files discerned over the heads of their
opponents a patch of blue sky and a twinkling star or two, and with a
final charge found themselves within the place.

A body of fierce Afghan swordsmen projected themselves into the interval
between the storming party and the main column. Sale, at the head of the
latter, was cut down by a tulwar stroke in the face; in the effort of his
blow the assailant fell with the assailed, and they rolled together among
the shattered timbers of the gate. Sale, wounded again on the ground, and
faint with loss of blood, called to one of his officers for assistance.
Kershaw ran the Afghan through the body with his sword; but he still
struggled with the Brigadier. At length in the grapple Sale got
uppermost, and then he dealt his adversary a sabre cut which cleft him
from crown to eyebrows. There was much confused fighting within the
place, for the Afghan garrison made furious rallies again and again; but
the citadel was found open and undefended, and by sunrise British banners
were waving above its battlements Hyder Khan, the Governor of Ghuznee,
one of the sons of Dost Mahomed, was found concealed in a house in the
town and taken prisoner. The British loss amounted to about 200 killed
and wounded, that of the garrison, which was estimated at from 3000 to
4000 strong, was over 500 killed. The number of wounded was not
ascertained; of prisoners taken in arms there were about 1600. The booty
consisted of numerous horses, camels and mules, ordnance and military
weapons of various descriptions, and a vast quantity of supplies of all

Keane, having garrisoned Ghuznee, and left there his sick and wounded,
resumed on July 30th his march on Cabul. Within twenty-four hours after
the event Dost Mahomed heard of the fall of Ghuznee. Possessed of the
adverse intelligence, the Dost gathered his chiefs, received their facile
assurances of fidelity, sent his brother the Nawaub Jubbar Khan to ask
what terms Shah Soojah and his British allies were prepared to offer him,
and recalled from Jellalabad his son Akbar Khan, with all the force he
could muster there. The Dost's emissary to the allied camp was informed
that 'an honourable asylum' in British India was at the service of his
brother; an offer which Jubbar Khan declined in his name without thanks.
Before he left to share the fortunes of the Dost, the Sirdar is reported
to have asked Macnaghten, 'If Shah Soojah is really our king, what need
has he of your army and name? You have brought him here,' he continued,
'with your money and arms. Well, leave him now with us Afghans, and let
him rule us if he can.' When Jubbar Khan returned to Cabul with his
sombre message, the Dost, having been joined by Akbar Khan, concentrated
his army, and found himself at the head of 13,000 men, with thirty guns;
but he mournfully realised that he could lean no reliance on the
constancy and courage of his adherents. Nevertheless, he marched out
along the Ghuznee road, and drew up his force at Urgundeh, where he
commanded the most direct line of retreat toward the western hill country
of Bamian, in case his people would not fight, or should they fight, if
they were beaten.

There was no fight in his following; scarcely, indeed, was there a loyal
supporter among all those who had eaten his salt for years. There was
true manhood in this chief whom we were replacing by an effete puppet.
The Dost, Koran in hand, rode among his perfidious troops, and conjured
them in the name of God and the Prophet not to dishonour themselves by
transferring their allegiance to one who had filled Afghanistan with
infidels and blasphemers. 'If,' he continued, 'you are resolved to be
traitors to me, at least enable me to die with honour. Support the
brother of Futteh Khan in one last charge against these Feringhee dogs.
In that charge he will fall; then go and make your own terms with Shah
Soojah.' The high-souled appeal inspired no worthy response; but one is
loth to credit the testimony of the soldier-of-fortune Harlan that his
guards forsook the Dost, and that the rabble of troops plundered his
pavilion, snatched from under him the pillows of his divan, seized his
prayer carpet, and finally hacked into pieces the tent and its
appurtenances. On the evening of August 2d the hapless man shook the dust
of the camp of traitors from his feet, and rode away toward Bamian, his
son Akbar Khan, with a handful of resolute men, covering the retreat of
his father and his family. Tidings of the flight of Dost Mahomed reached
Keane on the 3d, at Sheikabad, where he had halted to concentrate; and
Outram volunteered to head a pursuing party, to consist of some British
officers as volunteers, some cavalry and some Afghan horse. Hadji Khan
Kakur, the earliest traitor of his race, undertook to act as guide. This
man's devices of delay defeated Outram's fiery energy, perhaps in deceit,
perhaps because he regarded it as lacking discretion. For Akbar Khan made
a long halt on the crown of the pass, waiting to check any endeavour to
press closely on his fugitive father, and it would have gone hard with
Outram, with a few fagged horsemen at his back, if Hadji Khan had allowed
him to overtake the resolute young Afghan chief. As Keane moved forward,
there fell to him the guns which the Dost had left in the Urgundeh
position. On August 6th he encamped close to Cabul; and on the following
day Shah Soojah made his public entry into the capital which he had last
seen thirty years previously. After so many years of vicissitude,
adventure and intrigue, he was again on the throne of his ancestors, but
placed there by the bayonets of the Government whose creature he was, an
insult to the nation whom he had the insolence to call his people.

The entry, nevertheless, was a goodly spectacle enough. Shah Soojah,
dazzling in coronet, jewelled girdle and bracelets, but with no
Koh-i-noor now glittering on his forehead, bestrode a white charger,
whose equipments gleamed with gold. By his side rode Macnaghten and
Burnes; in the pageant were the principal officers of the British army.
Sabres flashed in front of the procession, bayonets sparkled in its rear,
as it wended its way through the great bazaar which Pollock was to
destroy three years later, and along the tortuous street to the gate of
the Balla Hissar. But neither the monarch nor his pageant kindled the
enthusiasm in the Cabulees. There was no voice of welcome; the citizens
did not care to trouble themselves so much as to make him a salaam, and
they stared at the European strangers harder than at his restored
majesty. There was a touch of pathos in the burst of eagerness to which
the old man gave way as he reached the palace, ran through the gardens,
visited the apartments, and commented on the neglect everywhere apparent.
Shah Soojah was rather a poor creature, but he was by no means altogether
destitute of good points, and far worse men than he were actors in the
strange historical episode of which he was the figurehead. He was humane
for an Afghan; he never was proved to have been untrue to us; he must
have had some courage of a kind else he would never have remained in
Cabul when our people left it, in the all but full assurance of the fate
which presently overtook him as a matter of course. Havelock thus
portrays him: 'A stout person of the middle height, his chin covered with
a long thick and neatly trimmed beard, dyed black to conceal the
encroachments of time. His manner toward the English is gentle, calm and
dignified, without haughtiness, but his own subjects have invariably
complained of his reception of them as cold and repulsive, even to
rudeness. His complexion is darker than that of the generality of
Afghans, and his features, if not decidedly handsome, are not the reverse
of pleasing; but the expression of his countenance would betray to a
skilful physiognomist that mixture of timidity and duplicity so often
observable in the character of the higher order of men in Southern Asia.'


Sir John Kaye, in his picturesque if diffuse history of the first Afghan
war, lays it down that, in seating Shah Soojah on the Cabul throne, 'the
British Government had done all that it had undertaken to do,' and Durand
argues that, having accomplished this, 'the British army could have then
been withdrawn with the honour and fame of entire success.' The facts
apparently do not justify the reasoning of either writer. In the Simla
manifesto, in which Lord Auckland embodied the rationale of his policy,
he expressed the confident hope 'that the Shah will be speedily replaced
on his throne by his own subjects and adherents, and when once he shall
be received in power, and the independence and integrity of Afghanistan
established, the British army will be withdrawn.' The Shah had been
indeed restored to his throne, but by British bayonets, not by 'his own
subjects and adherents.' It could not seriously be maintained that he was
secure in power, or that the independence and integrity of Afghanistan
were established when British troops were holding Candahar, Ghuznee and
Cabul, the only three positions where the Shah was nominally paramount,
when the fugitive Dost was still within its borders, when intrigue and
disaffection were seething in every valley and on every hill-side, and
when the principality of Herat maintained a contemptuous independence.
Macnaghten might avow himself convinced of the popularity of the Shah,
and believe or strive to believe that the Afghans had received the puppet
king `with feelings nearly amounting to adoration,' but he did not
venture to support the conviction he avowed by advocating that the Shah
should be abandoned to his adoring subjects. Lord Auckland's policy was
gravely and radically erroneous, but it had a definite object, and that
object certainly was not a futile march to Cabul and back, dropping
incidentally by the wayside the aspirant to a throne whom he had himself
put forward, and leaving him to take his chance among a truculent and
adverse population. Thus early, in all probability, Lord Auckland was
disillusioned of the expectation that the effective restoration of Shah
Soojah would be of light and easy accomplishment, but at least he could
not afford to have the enterprise a _coup manque_ when as yet it was
little beyond its inception.

The cost of the expedition was already, however, a strain, and the troops
engaged in it were needed in India. Lord Auckland intimated to Macnaghten
his expectation that a strong brigade would suffice to hold Afghanistan
in conjunction with the Shah's contingent, and his desire that the rest
of the army of the Indus should at once return to India. Macnaghten, on
the other hand, in spite of his avowal of the Shah's popularity, was
anxious to retain in Afghanistan a large body of troops. He meditated
strange enterprises, and proposed that Keane should support his project
of sending a force toward Bokhara to give check to a Russian column which
Pottinger at Herat had heard was assembling at Orenburg, with Khiva for
its objective. Keane derided the proposal, and Macnaghten reluctantly
abandoned it, but he demanded of Lord Auckland with success, the
retention in Afghanistan of the Bengal division of the army. In the
middle of September General Willshire marched with the Bombay column,
with orders, on his way to the Indus to pay a hostile visit to Khelat,
and punish its khan for the 'disloyalty' with which he had been charged,
a commission which the British officer fulfilled with a skill and
thoroughness that could be admired with less reservation had the
aggression on the gallant Mehrab been less wanton. A month later Keane
started for India by the Khyber route, which Wade had opened without
serious resistance when in August and September he escorted through the
passes Prince Timour, Shah Soojah's heir-apparent. During the temporary
absence of Cotton, who accompanied Keane, Nott had the command at
Candahar, Sale at and about Cabul, and the troops were quartered in those
capitals, and in Jellalabad, Ghuznee, Charikar and Bamian. The Shah and
the Envoy wintered in the milder climate of Jellalabad, and Burnes was in
political charge of the capital and its vicinity.

It was a prophetic utterance that the accomplishment of our military
succession would mark but the commencement of our real difficulties in
Afghanistan. In theory and in name Shah Soojah was an independent
monarch; it was, indeed, only in virtue of his proving himself able to
rule independently that he could justify his claim to rule at all. But
that he was independent was a contradiction in terms while British troops
studded the country, and while the real powers of sovereignty were
exercised by Macnaghten. Certain functions, it is true, the latter did
permit the nominal monarch to exercise. While debarred from a voice in
measures of external policy, and not allowed to sway the lines of conduct
to be adopted toward independent or revolting tribes, the Shah was
allowed to concern himself with the administration of justice, and in his
hands were the settlement, collection and appropriation of the revenue of
those portions of the kingdom from which any revenue could be exacted. He
was allowed to appoint as his minister of state, the companion of his
exile, old Moolla Shikore, who had lost both his memory and his ears, but
who had sufficient faculty left to hate the English, to oppress the
people, to be corrupt and venal beyond all conception, and to appoint
subordinates as flagitious as himself. 'Bad ministers,' wrote Burnes,
'are in every government solid ground for unpopularity; and I doubt if
ever a king had a worse set than has Shah Soojah.' The oppressed people
appealed to the British functionaries, who remonstrated with the
minister, and the minister punished the people for appealing to the
British functionaries. The Shah was free to confer grants of land on his
creatures, but when the holders resisted, he was unable to enforce his
will since he was not allowed to employ soldiers; and the odium of the
forcible confiscation ultimately fell on Macnaghten, who alone had the
ordering of expeditions, and who could not see the Shah belittled by
non-fulfilment of his requisitions.

Justice sold by venal judges, oppression and corruption rampant in every
department of internal administration, it was no wonder that nobles and
people alike resented the inflictions under whose sting they writhed.
They were accustomed to a certain amount of oppression; Dost Mahomed had
chastised them with whips, but Shah Soojah, whom the English had brought,
was chastising them with scorpions. And they felt his yoke the more
bitterly because, with the shrewd acuteness of the race, they recognised
the really servile condition of this new king. They fretted, too, under
the sharp bit of the British political agents who were strewn about the
country, in the execution of a miserable and futile policy, and whose
lives, in a few instances, did not maintain the good name of their
country. Dost Mahomed had maintained his sway by politic management of
the chiefs, and through them of the tribes. Macnaghten would have done
well to impress on Shah Soojah the wisdom of pursuing the same tactics.
There was, it is true, the alternative of destroying the power of the
barons, but that policy involved a stubborn and doubtful struggle, and
prolonged occupation of the country by British troops in great strength.
Macnaghten professed our occupation of Afghanistan to be temporary; yet
he was clearly adventuring on the rash experiment of weakening the nobles
when he set about the enlistment of local tribal levies, who, paid from
the Royal treasury and commanded by British officers, were expected to be
staunch to the Shah, and useful in curbing the powers of the chiefs. The
latter, of course, were alienated and resentful, and the levies, imbued
with the Afghan attribute of fickleness, proved for the most part
undisciplined and faithless.

The winter of 1839-40 passed without much noteworthy incident. The winter
climate of Afghanistan is severe, and the Afghan, in ordinary
circumstances, is among the hibernating animals. But down in the Khyber,
in October, the tribes gave some trouble. They were dissatisfied with the
amount of annual black-mail paid them for the right of way through their
passes. When the Shah was a fugitive thirty years previously, they had
concealed and protected him; and mindful of their kindly services, he had
promised them, unknown to Macnaghten, the augmentation of their subsidy
to the old scale from which it had gradually dwindled. Wade, returning
from Cabul, did not bring them the assurances they expected, whereupon
they rose and concentrated and invested Ali Musjid, a fort which they
regarded as the key of their gloomy defile. Mackeson, the Peshawur
political officer, threw provisions and ammunition into Ali Musjid, but
the force, on its return march, was attacked by the hillmen, the Sikhs
being routed, and the sepoys incurring loss of men and transport. The
emboldened Khyberees now turned on Ali Musjid in earnest; but the
garrison was strengthened, and the place was held until a couple of
regiments marched down from Jellalabad, and were preparing to attack the
hillmen, when it was announced that Mackeson had made a compact with the
chiefs for the payment of an annual subsidy which they considered

Afghanistan fifty years ago, and the same is in a measure true of it
to-day, was rather a bundle of provinces, some of which owned scarcely a
nominal allegiance to the ruler in Cabul, than a concrete state. Herat
and Candahar were wholly independent, the Ghilzai tribes inhabiting the
wide tracts from the Suliman ranges westward beyond the road through
Ghuznee, between Candahar and Cabul, and northward into the rugged
country between Cabul and Jellalabad, acknowledged no other authority
than that of their own chiefs. The Ghilzais are agriculturists,
shepherds, and robbers; they are constantly engaged in internal feuds;
they are jealous of their wild independence, and through the centuries
have abated little of their untamed ferocity. They had rejected
Macnaghten's advances, and had attacked Shah Soojah's camp on the day
before the fall of Ghuznee. Outram, in reprisal, had promptly raided part
of their country. Later, the winter had restrained them from activity,
but they broke out again in the spring. In May Captain Anderson, marching
from Candahar with a mixed force about 1200 strong, was offered battle
near Jazee, in the Turnuk, by some 2000 Ghilzai horse and foot.
Andersen's guns told heavily among the Ghilzai horsemen, who, impatient
of the fire, made a spirited dash on his left flank. Grape and musketry
checked them; but they rallied, and twice charged home on the bayonets
before they withdrew, leaving 200 of their number dead on the ground.
Nott sent a detachment to occupy the fortress of Khelat-i-Ghilzai,
between Candahar and Ghuznee, thus rendering the communications more
secure; and later, Macnaghten bribed the chiefs by an annual subsidy of
L600 to abstain from infesting the highways. The terms were cheap, for
the Ghilzai tribes mustered some 40,000 fighting men.

Shah Soojah and the Envoy returned from Jellalabad to Cabul in April
1840. A couple of regiments had wintered not uncomfortably in the Balla
Hissar. That fortress was then the key of Cabul, and while our troops
remained in Afghanistan it should not have been left ungarrisoned a
single hour. The soldiers did their best to impress on Macnaghten the
all-importance of the position. But the Shah objected to its continued
occupation, and Macnaghten weakly yielded. Cotton, who had returned to
the chief military command in Afghanistan, made no remonstrance; the
Balla Hissar was evacuated, and the troops were quartered in cantonments
built in an utterly defenceless position on the plain north of Cabul, a
position whose environs were cumbered with walled gardens, and commanded
by adjacent high ground, and by native forts which were neither
demolished nor occupied. The troops, now in permanent and regularly
constructed quarters, ceased to be an expeditionary force, and became
substantially an army of occupation. The officers sent for their wives to
inhabit with them the bungalows in which they had settled down. Lady
Macnaghten, in the spacious mission residence which stood apart in its
own grounds, presided over the society of the cantonments, which had all
the cheery surroundings of the half-settled, half-nomadic life of our
military people in the East. There were the 'coffee house' after the
morning ride, the gathering round the bandstand in the evening, the
impromptu dance, and the _burra khana_ occasionally in the larger houses.
A racecourse had been laid out, and there were 'sky' races and more
formal meetings. And so 'as in the days that were before the flood, they
were eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, and knew
not until the flood came, and took them all away.'

Macnaghten engaged himself in a welter of internal and external intrigue,
his mood swinging from singular complacency to a disquietude that
sometimes approached despondency. It had come to be forced on him, in
spite of his intermittent optimism, that the Government was a government
of sentry-boxes, and that Afghanistan was not governed so much as
garrisoned. The utter failure of the winter march attempted by
Peroffski's Russian column across the frozen steppes on Khiva was a
relief to him; but the state of affairs in Herat was a constant trouble
and anxiety. Major Todd had been sent there as political agent, to make a
treaty with Shah Kamran, and to superintend the repair and improvement of
the fortifications of the city. Kamran was plenteously subsidised; he
took Macnaghten's lakhs, but furtively maintained close relations with
Persia. Detecting the double-dealing, Macnaghten urged on Lord Auckland
the annexation of Herat to Shah Soojah's dominions, but was instructed to
condone Kamran's duplicity, and try to bribe him higher. Kamran by no
means objected to this policy, and, while continuing his intrigues with
Persia, cheerfully accepted the money, arms and ammunition which
Macnaghten supplied him with so profusely as to cause remonstrance on the
part of the financial authorities in Calcutta. The Commander-in-Chief was
strong enough to counteract the pressure which Macnaghten brought to bear
on Lord Auckland in favour of an expedition against Herat, which his
lordship at length finally negatived, to the great disgust of the Envoy,
who wrote of the conduct of his chief as 'drivelling beyond contempt,'
and 'sighed for a Wellesley or a Hastings.' The ultimate result of
Macnaghten's negotiations with Shah Kamran was Major Todd's withdrawal
from Herat. Todd had suspended the monthly subsidy, to the great wrath of
Kamran's rapacious and treacherous minister Yar Mahomed, who made a
peremptory demand for increased advances, and refused Todd's stipulation
that a British force should be admitted into Herat. Todd's action in
quitting Herat was severely censured by his superiors, and he was
relegated to regimental duty. Perhaps he acted somewhat rashly, but he
had not been kept well informed; for instance, he had been unaware that
Persia had become our friend, and had engaged to cease relations with
Shah Kamran--an important arrangement of which he certainly should have
been cognisant. Macnaghten had squandered more gold on Herat than the
fee-simple of the principality was worth, and to no purpose; he left that
state just as he found it, treacherous, insolent, greedy and independent.

The precariousness of the long lines of communications between British
India and the army in Afghanistan--a source of danger which from the
first had disquieted cautious soldiers--was making itself seriously felt,
and constituted for Macnaghten another cause of solicitude. Old Runjeet
Singh, a faithful if not disinterested ally, had died on June 27th, 1839,
the day on which Keane marched out from Candahar. The breath was scarcely
out of the old reprobate when the Punjaub began to drift into anarchy. So
far as the Sikh share in it was concerned, the tripartite treaty
threatened to become a dead letter. The Lahore Durbar had not adequately
fulfilled the undertaking to support Prince Timour's advance by the
Khyber, nor was it duly regarding the obligation to maintain a force on
the Peshawur frontier of the Punjaub. But those things were trivial in
comparison with the growing reluctance manifested freely, to accord to
our troops and convoys permission to traverse the Punjaub on the march to
and from Cabul. The Anglo-Indian Government sent Mr Clerk to Lahore to
settle the question as to the thoroughfare. He had instructions to be
firm, and the Sikhs did not challenge Mr Clerk's stipulation that the
Anglo-Indian Government must have unmolested right of way through the
Punjaub, while he undertook to restrict the use of it as much as
possible. This arrangement by no means satisfied the exacting Macnaghten,
and he continued to worry himself by foreseeing all sorts of troublous
contingencies unless measures were adopted for 'macadamising' the road
through the Punjaub.

The summer of 1840 did not pass without serious interruptions to the
British communications between Candahar and the Indus; nor without
unexpected and ominous disasters before they were restored. General
Willshire, with the returning Bombay column, had in the previous November
stormed Mehrab Khan's ill-manned and worse armed fort of Khelat, and the
Khan, disdaining to yield, had fallen in the hopeless struggle. His son
Nusseer Khan had been put aside in favour of a collateral pretender, and
became an active and dangerous malcontent. All Northern Beloochistan fell
into a state of anarchy. A detachment of sepoys escorting supplies was
cut to pieces in one of the passes. Quetta was attacked with great
resolution by Nusseer Khan, but was opportunely relieved by a force sent
from another post. Nusseer made himself master of Khelat, and there fell
into his cruel hands Lieutenant Loveday, the British political officer
stationed there, whom he treated with great barbarity, and finally
murdered. A British detachment under Colonel Clibborn, was defeated by
the Beloochees with heavy loss, and compelled to retreat. Nusseer Khan,
descending into the low country of Cutch, assaulted the important post of
Dadur, but was repulsed, and taking refuge in the hills, was routed by
Colonel Marshall with a force from Kotree, whereupon he became a skulking
fugitive. Nott marched down from Candahar with a strong force, occupied
Khelat, and fully re-established communications with the line of the
Indus, while fresh troops moved forward into Upper Scinde, and thence
gradually advancing to Quetta and Candahar, materially strengthened the
British position in Southern Afghanistan.

Dost Mahomed, after his flight from Cabul in 1839, had soon left the
hospitable refuge afforded him in Khooloom, a territory west of the
Hindoo Koosh beyond Bamian, and had gone to Bokhara on the treacherous
invitation of its Ameer, who threw him into captivity. The Dost's family
remained at Khooloom, in the charge of his brother Jubbar Khan. The
advance of British forces beyond Bamian to Syghan and Bajgah, induced
that Sirdar to commit himself and the ladies to British protection. Dr
Lord, Macnaghten's political officer in the Bamian district, was a rash
although well-meaning man. The errors he had committed since the opening
of spring had occasioned disasters to the troops whose dispositions he
controlled, and had incited the neighbouring hill tribes to active
disaffection. In July Dost Mahomed made his escape from Bokhara, hurried
to Khooloom, found its ruler and the tribes full of zeal for his cause,
and rapidly grew in strength. Lord found it was time to call in his
advance posts and concentrate at Bamian, losing in the operation an
Afghan regiment which deserted to the Dost. Macnaghten reinforced Bamian,
and sent Colonel Dennie to command there. On September 18th Dennie moved
out with two guns and 800 men against the Dost's advance parties raiding
in an adjacent valley. Those detachments driven back, Dennie suddenly
found himself opposed to the irregular mass of Oosbeg horse and foot
which constituted the army of the Dost. Mackenzie's cannon fire shook the
undisciplined horde, the infantry pressed in to close quarters, and soon
the nondescript host of the Dost was in panic flight, with Dennie's
cavalry in eager pursuit. The Dost escaped with difficulty, with the loss
of his entire personal equipment. He was once more a fugitive, and the
Wali of Khooloom promptly submitted himself to the victors, and pledged
himself to aid and harbour the broken chief no more. Macnaghten had been
a prey to apprehension while the Dost's attitude was threatening; he was
now in a glow of joy and hope.

But the Envoy's elation was short-lived. Dost Mahomed was yet to cause
him much solicitude. Defeated in Bamian, he was ready for another attempt
in the Kohistan country to the north of Cabul. Disaffection was rife
everywhere throughout the kingdom, but it was perhaps most rife in the
Kohistan, which was seething with intrigues in favour of Dost Mahomed,
while the local chiefs were intensely exasperated by the exactions of the
Shah's revenue collectors. Macnaghten summoned the chiefs to Cabul. They
came, they did homage to the Shah and swore allegiance to him; they went
away from the capital pledging each other to his overthrow, and jeering
at the scantiness of the force they had seen at Cabul. Intercepted
letters disclosed their schemes, and in the end of September Sale, with a
considerable force, marched out to chastise the disaffected Kohistanees.
The fort of Tootundurrah fell without resistance. Julgah, however, the
next fort assailed, stubbornly held out, and officers and men fell in the
unsuccessful attempt to storm it. In three weeks Sale marched to and fro
through the Kohistan, pursuing will-o'-the-wisp rumours as to the
whereabouts of the Dost, destroying forts on the course of his weary
pilgrimage, and subjected occasionally to night attacks.

Meanwhile, in the belief that Dost Mahomed was close to Cabul, and
mournfully conscious that the capital and surrounding country were ripe
for a rising, Macnaghten had relapsed into nervousness, and was a prey to
gloomy forebodings. The troops at Bamian were urgently recalled. Cannon
were mounted on the Balla Hissar to overawe the city, the concentration
of the troops in the fortress was under consideration, and men were
talking of preparing for a siege. How Macnaghten's English nature was
undergoing deterioration under the strain of events is shown by his
writing of the Dost: 'Would it be justifiable to set a price on this
fellow's head?' How his perceptions were warped was further evinced by
his talking of 'showing no mercy to the man who has been the author of
all the evil now distracting the country,' and by his complaining of Sale
and Burnes that, 'with 2000 good infantry, they are sitting down before a
fortified place, and are afraid to attack it.'

Learning that for certain the Dost had crossed the Hindoo Koosh from
Nijrao into the Kohistan, Sale, who had been reinforced, sent out
reconnaissances which ascertained that he was in the Purwan Durrah
valley, stretching down from the Hindoo Koosh to the Gorebund river; and
the British force marched thither on 2d November. As the village was
neared, the Dost's people were seen evacuating it and the adjacent forts,
and making for the hills. Sale's cavalry was some distance in advance of
the infantry of the advance guard, but time was precious. Anderson's
horse went to the left, to cut off retreat down the Gorebund valley.
Fraser took his two squadrons of Bengal cavalry to the right, advanced
along the foothills, and gained the head of the valley. He was too late
to intercept a small body of Afghan horsemen, who were already climbing
the upland; but badly mounted as the latter were, he could pursue them
with effect. But it seemed that the Afghans preferred to fight rather
than be pursued. The Dost himself was in command of the little party, and
the Dost was a man whose nature was to fight, not to run. He wheeled his
handful so that his horsemen faced Fraser's troop down there below them.
Then the Dost pointed to his banner, bared his head, called on his
supporters in the name of God and the Prophet to follow him against the
unbelievers, and led them down the slope.

Fraser had formed up his troopers when recall orders reached him. Joyous
that the situation entitled him to disobey them, he gave instead the word
to charge. As the Afghans came down at no great pace, they fired
occasionally; either because of the bullets, or because of an access of
pusillanimity, Fraser's troopers broke and fled ignominiously. The
British gentlemen charged home unsupported. Broadfoot, Crispin and Lord
were slain; Ponsonby, severely wounded and his reins cut, was carried out
of the _melee_ by his charger; Fraser, covered with blood and wounds,
broke through his assailants, and brought to Sale his report of the
disgrace of his troopers. After a sharp pursuit of the poltroons, the
Dost and his followers leisurely quitted the field.

Burnes wrote to the Envoy--he was a soldier, but he was also a
'political,' and political employ seemed often in Afghanistan to
deteriorate the attribute of soldierhood--that there was no alternative
for the force but to fall back on Cabul, and entreated Macnaghten to
order immediate concentration of all the troops. This letter Macnaghten
received the day after the disaster in the Kohistan, when he was taking
his afternoon ride in the Cabul plain. His heart must have been very
heavy as he rode, when suddenly a horseman galloped up to him and
announced that the Ameer was approaching. 'What Ameer?' asked Macnaghten.
'Dost Mahomed Khan,' was the reply, and sure enough there was the Dost
close at hand. Dismounting, this Afghan prince and gentleman saluted the
Envoy, and offered him his sword, which Macnaghten declined to take. Dost
and Envoy rode into Cabul together, and such was the impression the
former made on the latter that Macnaghten, who a month before had
permitted himself to think of putting a price on 'the fellow's' head,
begged now of the Governor-General 'that the Dost be treated more
handsomely than was Shah Soojah, who had no claim on us.' And then
followed a strange confession for the man to make who made the tripartite
treaty, and approved the Simla manifesto: 'We had no hand in depriving
the Shah of his kingdom, _whereas we ejected the Dost, who never offended
us, in support of our policy, of which he was the victim_.'

Durand regards Dost Mahomed's surrender as 'evincing a strange
pusillanimity.' This opprobrious judgment appears unjustified. No doubt
he was weary of the fugitive life he had been leading, but to pronounce
him afraid that the Kohistanees or any other Afghans would betray him is
to ignore the fact that he had been for months among people who might,
any hour of any day, have betrayed him if they had chosen. Nobler motives
than those ascribed to him by Durand may be supposed to have actuated a
man of his simple and lofty nature. He had given the arbitrament of war a
trial, and had realised that in that way he could make no head against
us. He might, indeed, have continued the futile struggle, but he was the
sort of man to recognise the selfishness of that persistency which would
involve ruin and death to the devoted people who would not desert his
cause while he claimed to have a cause. When historians write of Afghan
treachery and guile, it seems to have escaped their perception that
Afghan treachery was but a phase of Afghan patriotism, of an unscrupulous
character, doubtless, according to our notions, but nevertheless
practical in its methods, and not wholly unsuccessful in its results. It
may have been a higher and purer patriotism that moved Dost Mahomed to
cease, by his surrender, from being an obstacle to the tranquillisation
of the country of which he had been the ruler.


Dost Mahomed remained for a few days in the British cantonments on the
Cabul plain, an honoured guest rather than a prisoner. His soldierly
frankness, his bearing at once manly and courteous, his honest liking for
and trust in our race, notwithstanding the experiences which he had
undergone, won universal respect and cordiality. Officers who stood aloof
from Shah Soojah vied with each other in evincing to Dost Mahomed their
sympathy with him in his fallen fortunes. Shah Soojah would not see the
man whom he had ingloriously supplanted, on the pretext that he 'could
not bring himself to show common civility to such a villain.' How
Macnaghten's feeling in regard to the two men had altered is disclosed by
his comment on this refusal. 'It is well,' he wrote, 'as the Dost must
have suffered much humiliation in being subjected to such an ordeal.'

In the middle of November 1840 the Dost began his journey toward British
India, accompanied by Sir Willoughby Cotton, who was finally quitting
Afghanistan, and under the escort of a considerable British force which
had completed its tour of duty in Afghanistan. Sale succeeded Cotton in
temporary divisional command pending the arrival of the latter's
successor. About the middle of December Shah Soojah and his Court,
accompanied by the British Envoy, arrived at Jellalabad for the winter,
Burnes remaining at Cabul in political charge.

Macnaghten was mentally so constituted as to be continually alternating
between high elation and the depths of despondency; discerning to-day
ominous indications of ruin in an incident of no account, and to-morrow
scorning imperiously to recognise danger in the fierce rising of a
province. It may almost be said that each letter of his to Lord Auckland
was of a different tone from the one which had preceded it. Burnes, who
was nominally Macnaghten's chief lieutenant, with more self-restraint,
had much the same temperament. Kaye writes of him: 'Sometimes sanguine,
sometimes despondent, sometimes confident, sometimes credulous, Burnes
gave to fleeting impressions all the importance and seeming permanency of
settled convictions, and imbued surrounding objects with the colours of
his own varying mind.' But if Burnes had been a discreet and steadfast
man, he could have exercised no influence on the autocratic Macnaghten,
since between the two men there was neither sympathy nor confidence.
Burnes had, indeed, no specific duties of any kind; in his own words, he
was in 'the most nondescript situation.' Macnaghten gave him no
responsibility, and while Burnes waited for the promised reversion of the
office of envoy, he chiefly employed himself in writing long memorials on
the situation and prospects of affairs, on which Macnaghten's marginal
comments were brusque, and occasionally contemptuous. The resolute and
clear-headed Pottinger, who, if the opportunity had been given him, might
have buttressed and steadied Macnaghten, was relegated to provincial
service. Throughout his career in Afghanistan the Envoy could not look
for much advice from the successive commanders of the Cabul force, even
if he had cared to commune with them. Keane, indeed, did save him from
the perpetration of one folly. But Cotton appears to have been a
respectable nonentity. Sale was a stout, honest soldier, who was not
fortunate on the only occasion which called him outside of his restricted
_metier_. Poor Elphinstone was an object for pity rather than for

It happened fortunately, in the impending misfortunes, that two men of
stable temperament and lucid perception were in authority at Candahar.
General Nott was a grand old Indian officer, in whom there was no guile,
but a good deal of temper. He was not supple, and he had the habit of
speaking his mind with great directness, a propensity which accounted,
perhaps, for the repeated supersessions he had undergone. A clearheaded,
shrewd man, he was disgusted with very many things which he recognised as
unworthy in the conduct of the affairs of Afghanistan, and he was not the
man to choose mild phrases in giving vent to his convictions. He had in
full measure that chronic dislike which the Indian commander in the field
nourishes to the political officer who is imposed on him by the
authorities, and who controls his measures and trammels his actions.
Nott's 'political,' who, the sole survivor of the men who were prominent
during this unhappy period, still lives among us esteemed and revered,
was certainly the ablest officer of the unpopular department to which he
belonged; and how cool was Henry Rawlinson's temper is evinced in his
ability to live in amity with the rugged and outspoken chief who
addressed him in such a philippic as the following--words all the more
trenchant because he to whom they were addressed must have realised how
intrinsically true they were:--

'I have no right to interfere with the affairs of this country, and I
never do so. But in reference to that part of your note where you speak
of political influence, I will candidly tell you that these are not times
for mere ceremony, and that under present circumstances, and at a
distance of 2000 miles from the seat of the supreme Government, I throw
responsibility to the wind, and tell you that in my opinion you have not
had for some time past, nor have you at present, one particle of
political influence in this country.'

Nott steadily laboured to maintain the _morale_ and discipline of his
troops, and thus watching the flowing tide of misrule and embroilment, he
calmly made the best preparations in his power to meet the storm the sure
and early outbreak of which his clear discernment prognosticated.

Shah Soojah's viceroy at Candahar was his heir-apparent Prince Timour.
The Dooranee chiefs of Western Afghanistan had not unnaturally expected
favours and influence under the rule of the Dooranee monarch; and while
in Candahar before proceeding to Cabul, and still uncertain of what might
occur there, Shah Soojah had been lavish of his promises. The chiefs had
anticipated that they would be called around the vice-throne of Prince
Timour; but Shah Soojah made the same error as that into which Louis
XVIII. fell on his restoration. He constituted his Court of the men who
had shared his Loodianah exile. The counsellors who went to Candahar with
Timour were returned _emigres_, in whom fitness for duty counted less
than the qualification of companionship in exile. Those people had come
back to Afghanistan poor; now they made haste to be rich by acts of
oppressive injustice, in the exaction of revenue from the people, and by
intercepting from the Dooranee chiefs the flow of royal bounty to which
they had looked forward.

Uktar Khan was prominent among the Dooranee noblemen, and he had the
double grievance of having been disappointed of the headship of the
Zemindawar province on the western bank of the Helmund, and having been
evilly entreated by the minions of Prince Timour. He had raised his clan
and routed a force under a royalist follower, when Nott sent a detachment
against him. Uktar Khan had crossed the Helmund into Zemindawar, when
Farrington attacked him, and, after a brisk fight, routed and pursued
him. The action was fought on January 3, 1841, in the very dead of
winter; the intensity of the cold dispersed Uktar's levies, and
Farrington returned to Candahar.

In reply to Macnaghten's demand for information regarding the origin of
this outbreak, Rawlinson wrote him some home truths which were very
distasteful. Rawlinson warned his chief earnestly of the danger which
threatened the false position of the British in Afghanistan. He pointed
out how cruel must be the revenue exactions which enabled Prince Timour's
courtiers to absorb great sums. He expressed his suspicion that Shah
Soojah had countenanced Uktar Khan's rising, and spoke of intrigues of
dark and dangerous character. Macnaghten scouted Rawlinson's warning, and
instructed him that 'it will make the consideration of all questions more
simple if you will hereafter take for granted that as regards us "the
king can do no wrong."' However, he and the Shah did remove from Candahar
the Vakeel and his clique of obnoxious persons, who had been grinding the
faces of the people; and the Envoy allowed himself to hope that this
measure would restore order to the province of Candahar.

The hope was vain, the evil lay deeper; disaffection to the Shah and
hatred to the British power were becoming intensified from day to day,
and the aspiration for relief was swelling into a passion. In the days
before our advent there had been venality and corruption in public
places--occasionally, likely enough, as Macnaghten asserted, to an extent
all but incredible. But exaction so sweeping could have occurred only in
regions under complete domination; and in Afghanistan, even to this day,
there are few regions wholly in this condition. When the yoke became
over-weighty, a people of a nature so intractable knew how to resent
oppression and oppose exaction. But now the tax gatherer swaggered over
the land, and the people had to endure him, for at his back were the
soldiers of the Feringhees and the levies of the Shah. The latter were
paid by assignments on the revenues of specified districts; as the levies
constituted a standing army of some size, the contributions demanded were
heavier and more permanent than in bygone times. Macnaghten, aware of the
discontent engendered by the system of assignments, desired to alter it.
But the Shah's needs were pressing; the Anglo-Indian treasury was
strained already by the expenditure in Afghanistan; and it was not easy
in a period of turmoil and rebellion to carry out the amendment of a
fiscal system. That, since the surrender of the Dost, there had been no
serious rising in Northern or Eastern Afghanistan, sufficed to make
Macnaghten an optimist of the moment. He had come by this time to a
reluctant admission of the fact against which he had set his face so
long, that Shah Soojah was unpopular. 'He has incurred,' he wrote, 'the
odium that attaches to him from his alliance with us'; but the Envoy
would not admit that our position in Afghanistan was a false one, in that
we were maintaining by our bayonets, against the will of the Afghans, a
sovereign whom they detested. 'It would,' he pleaded, 'be an act of
downright dishonesty to desert His Majesty before he has found the means
of taking root in the soil to which we have transplanted him.' While he
wrote, Macnaghten must have experienced a sudden thrill of optimism or of
self-delusion, for he continued: 'All things considered, the present
tranquillity of this country is to my mind perfectly miraculous. Already
our presence has been infinitely beneficial in allaying animosities and
in pointing out abuses.' If it had been the case that the country was
tranquil, his adjective would have been singularly appropriate, but not
precisely in the sense he meant to convey.

But there was no tranquillity, miraculous or otherwise. While Macnaghten
was writing the letter which has just been quoted, Brigadier Shelton,
who, about the New Year, had reached Jellalabad with a brigade from
British India in relief of the force which was withdrawing with Cotton,
was contending with an outbreak of the wild and lawless clans of the
Khyber. When Macnaghten wrote, he had already received intelligence of
the collapse of his projects in Herat, and that Major Todd, who had been
his representative there, judging it imperative to break up the mission
of which he was the head, had abruptly quitted that city, and was on his
way to Candahar. Mischief was simmering in the Zemindawar country. The
Ghilzai tribes of the region between Candahar and Ghuznee had accepted a
subsidy to remain quiet, but the indomitable independence of this wild
and fierce race was not to be tamed by bribes, and the spirit of
hostility was manifesting itself so truculently that a British garrison
had been placed in Khelat-i-Ghilzai, right in the heart of the disturbed
territory. This warning and defensive measure the tribes had regarded
with angry jealousy; but it was not until a rash 'political' had directed
the unprovoked assault and capture of a Ghilzai fort that the tribes
passionately flew to arms, bent on contesting the occupation of their
rugged country. Colonel Wymer was sent from Candahar with a force,
escorting a convoy of stores intended for the equipment of
Khelat-i-Ghilzai. The tribes who had been loosely beleaguering that place
marched down the Turnuk upon Wymer, and on May 19th attacked him with
great impetuosity, under the command of a principal chief who was known
as the 'Gooroo.' Wymer, in the protection of his convoy, had to stand on
the defensive. The Ghilzais, regardless of the grape which tore through
their masses, fell on sword in hand, and with an intuitive tactical
perception struck Wymer simultaneously in front and flank. His sepoys had
to change their dispositions, and the Ghilzais took the opportunity of
their momentary dislocation to charge right home. They were met firmly by
the bayonet, but again and again the hillmen renewed their attacks; and
it was not till after five hours of hard fighting which cost them heavy
loss, that at length, in the darkness, they suddenly drew off. Had they
been Swiss peasants defending their mountains, or Poles struggling
against the ferocious tyranny of Russia, their gallant effort might have
excited praise and sympathy. Had they been Soudanese, a statesman might
have spoken of them as a people 'rightly struggling to be free'; as it
was, the Envoy vituperated them as 'a parcel of ragamuffins,' and Wymer's
sepoys were held to have 'covered themselves with glory.' Macnaghten
proceeded to encourage a sense of honour among the tribes by proposing
the transfer to another chief, on condition of his seizing and delivering
over the inconvenient 'Gooroo,' of the share of subsidy of which the
latter had been in receipt.

While this creditable transaction was under consideration, Uktar Khan was
again making himself very unpleasant; so much so that Macnaghten was
authorising Rawlinson to offer a reward of 10,000 rupees for his capture,
which accomplished, Rawlinson was instructed to 'hang the villain as high
as Haman.' The gallows was not built, however, on which Uktar was to
hang, although that chief sustained two severe defeats at the hands of
troops sent from Candahar, and had to become a fugitive. The Ghilzais,
who had gathered again after their defeat under the 'Gooroo,' had made
little stand against the detachment which Colonel Chambers led out from
Candahar, and they were again temporarily dispersed. The 'Gooroo' himself
was in our hands. If the disaffection was in no degree diminished, the
active ebullitions of it were assuredly quelled for the time. It was
true, to be sure, that Akbar Khan, the fierce and resolute son of Dost
Mahomed, had refused the Envoy's overtures to come in, and was wandering
and plotting in Khooloom, quite ready to fulfil Macnaghten's prophetic
apprehension that 'the fellow will be after some mischief should the
opportunity present itself'; that the Dooranees were still defiant; that
an insurgent force was out in the Dehrawat; and that the tameless chief
Akram Khan was being blown from a gun by the cruel and feeble Timour. But
unquestionably there was a comparative although short-lived lull in the
overt hostility of the Afghan peoples against Shah Soojah and his foreign
supporters; and Macnaghten characteristically announced that 'the country
was quiet from Dan to Beersheba.' To one of his correspondents he wrote:
'From Mookoor to the Khyber Pass, all is content and tranquillity; and
wherever we Europeans go, we are received with respect, attention and
welcome. I think our prospects are most cheering; and with the materials
we have there ought to be little or no difficulty in the management of
the country. The people are perfect children, and they should be treated
as such. If we put one naughty boy in the corner, the rest will be

General Nott at Candahar, who 'never interfered in the government of the
country,' but regarded the situation with shrewd, clear-headed common
sense, differed utterly from the Envoy's view. The stout old soldier did
not squander his fire; it was a close volley he discharged in the
following words: 'The conduct of the thousand and one politicals has
ruined our cause, and bared the throat of every European in this country
to the sword and knife of the revengeful Afghan and bloody Belooch; and
unless several regiments be quickly sent, not a man will be left to
describe the fate of his comrades. Nothing will ever make the Afghans
submit to the hated Shah Soojah, who is most certainly as great a
scoundrel as ever lived.'

Nott's conclusions were in the main justified by after events, but the
correctness of his premiss may be questioned. That the conduct of some of
the political officers intensified the rancour of the Afghans is
unhappily true, but the hate of our domination, and of the puppet thrust
upon them by us, seems to have found its origin in a deeper feeling. The
patriotism of a savage race is marked by features repulsive to civilised
communities, but through the ruthless cruelty of the indiscriminate
massacre, the treachery of the stealthy stab, and the lightly broken
pledges, there may shine out the noblest virtue that a virile people can
possess. A semi-barbarian nation whose manhood pours out its blood like
water in stubborn resistance against an alien yoke, may be pardoned for
many acts shocking to civilised communities which have not known the
bitterness of stern and masterful subjugation.


The deceptive quietude of Afghanistan which followed the sharp lessons
administered to the Dooranees and the Ghilzais was not seriously
disturbed during the month of September 1841, and Macnaghten was in a
full glow of cheerfulness. His services had been recognised by his
appointment to the dignified and lucrative post of Governor of the Bombay
Presidency, and he was looking forward to an early departure for a less
harassing and tumultuous sphere of action than that in which he had been
labouring for two troubled years. The belief that he would leave behind
him a quiescent Afghanistan, and Shah Soojah firmly established on its
throne, was the complement, to a proud and zealous man, of the
satisfaction which his promotion afforded.

One distasteful task he had to perform before he should go. The Home
Government had become seriously disquieted by the condition of affairs in
Afghanistan. The Secret Committee of the Court of Directors, the channel
through which the ministry communicated with the Governor-General, had
expressed great concern at the heavy burden imposed on the Indian
finances by the cost of the maintenance of the British force in
Afghanistan, and by the lavish expenditure of the administration which
Macnaghten directed. The Anglo-Indian Government was urgently required to
review with great earnestness the question of its future policy in regard
to Afghanistan, and to consider gravely whether an enterprise at once so
costly and so unsatisfactory in results should not be frankly abandoned.
Lord Auckland was alive to the difficulties and embarrassments which
encompassed the position beyond the Indus, but he was loth to admit that
the policy of which he had been the author, and in which the Home
Government had abetted him so eagerly, was an utter failure. He and his
advisers finally decided in favour of the continued occupation of
Afghanistan; and since the Indian treasury was empty, and the annual
charge of that occupation was not less than a million and a quarter
sterling, recourse was had to a loan, Macnaghten was pressed to effect
economies in the administration, and he was specially enjoined to cut
down the subsidies which were paid to Afghan chiefs as bribes to keep
them quiet. Macnaghten had objected to this retrenchment, pointing out
that the stipends to the chiefs were simply compensation for the
abandonment by them of their immemorial practice of highway robbery, but
he yielded to pressure, called to Cabul the chiefs in its vicinity, and
informed them that thenceforth their subsidies would be reduced. The
chiefs strongly remonstrated, but without effect, and they then formed a
confederacy of rebellion. The Ghilzai chiefs were the first to act.
Quitting Cabul, they occupied the passes between the capital and
Jellalabad, and entirely intercepted the communications with India by the
Khyber route.

Macnaghten did not take alarm at this significant demonstration,
regarding the outbreak merely as 'provoking,' and writing to Rawlinson
that 'the rascals would be well trounced for their pains.' Yet warnings
of gathering danger were rife, which but for his mood of optimism should
have struck home to his apprehension. Pottinger had come down from the
Kohistan, where he was acting as political officer, bent on impressing on
him that a general rising of that region was certain unless strong
measures of prevention were resorted to. For some time before the actual
outbreak of the Ghilzais, the Afghan hatred to our people had been
showing itself with exceptional openness and bitterness. Europeans and
camp followers had been murdered, but the sinister evidences of growing
danger had been regarded merely as ebullitions of private rancour. Akbar
Khan, Dost Mahomed's son, had moved forward from Khooloom into the Bamian
country, and there was little doubt that he was fomenting the
disaffection of the Ghilzai chiefs, with some of whom this indomitable
man, who in his intense hatred of the English intruders had resolutely
rejected all offers of accommodation, and preferred the life of a
homeless exile to the forfeiture of his independence, was closely
connected by marriage.

The time was approaching when Sale's brigade was to quit Cabul on its
return journey to India. Macnaghten seems to have originally intended to
accompany this force, for he wrote that he 'hoped to settle the hash of
the Ghilzais on the way down, if not before.' The rising, however, spread
so widely and so rapidly that immediate action was judged necessary, and
on October 9th Colonel Monteath marched towards the passes with his own
regiment, the 35th Native Infantry, some artillery and cavalry details,
and a detachment of Broadfoot's sappers.

How able, resolute, and high-souled a man was George Broadfoot, the
course of this narrative will later disclose. He was one of three gallant
brothers, all of whom died sword in hand. The corps of sappers which he
commanded was a remarkable body--a strange medley of Hindustanees,
Goorkhas, and Afghan tribesmen of divers regions. Many were desperate and
intractable characters, but Broadfoot, with mingled strength and
kindness, moulded his heterogeneous recruits into skilful, obedient and
disciplined soldiers. Broadfoot's description of his endeavours to learn
something of the nature of the duties expected of him in the expedition
for which he had been detailed, and to obtain such equipment as those
duties might require, throws a melancholy light on the deteriorated state
of affairs among our people at this period, and on the relations between
the military and civilian authorities.

Broadfoot went for information, in the first instance, to Colonel
Monteath, who could give him no orders, having received none himself.
Monteath declined to apply for details as to the expedition, as he knew
'these people' (the authorities) too well; he was quite aware of the
danger of going on service in the dark, but explained that it was not the
custom of the military authorities at Cabul to consult or even instruct
the commanders of expeditions. Broadfoot then went to the General.
Cotton's successor in the chief military command in Afghanistan was poor
General Elphinstone, a most gallant soldier, but with no experience of
Indian warfare, and utterly ignorant of the Afghans and of Afghanistan.
Wrecked in body and impaired in mind by physical ailments and
infirmities, he had lost all faculty of energy, and such mind as remained
to him was swayed by the opinion of the person with whom he had last
spoken. The poor gentleman was so exhausted by the exertion of getting
out of bed, and being helped into his visiting-room, that it was not for
half-an-hour, and after several ineffectual efforts, that he could attend
to business. He knew nothing of the nature of the service on which
Monteath was ordered, could give Broadfoot no orders, and was unwilling
to refer to the Envoy on a matter which should have been left to him to
arrange. He complained bitterly of the way in which he was reduced to a
cypher--'degraded from a general to the "Lord-Lieutenant's head
constable."' Broadfoot went from the General to the Envoy, who 'was
peevish,' and denounced the General as fidgety. He declared the enemy to
be contemptible, and that as for Broadfoot and his sappers, twenty men
with pickaxes were enough; all they were wanted for was to pick stones
from under the gun wheels. When Broadfoot represented the inconvenience
with which imperfect information as to the objects of the expedition was
fraught, Macnaghten lost his temper, and told Broadfoot that, if he
thought Monteath's movement likely to bring on an attack, 'he need not
go, he was not wanted'; whereupon Broadfoot declined to listen to such
language, and made his bow. Returning to the General, whom he found 'lost
and perplexed,' he was told to follow his own judgment as to what
quantity of tools he should take. The Adjutant-General came in, and 'this
officer, after abusing the Envoy, spoke to the General with an
imperiousness and disrespect, and to me, a stranger, with an insolence it
was painful to see the influence of on the General. His advice to his
chief was to have nothing to say to Macnaghten, to me, or to the sappers,
saying Monteath had men enough, and needed neither sappers nor tools.' At
parting the poor old man said to Broadfoot: 'If you go out, for God's
sake clear the passes quickly, that I may get away; for if anything were
to turn up, I am unfit for it, done up in body and mind.' This was the
man whom Lord Auckland had appointed to the most responsible and arduous
command at his disposal, and this not in ignorance of General
Elphinstone's disqualifications for active service, but in the fullest
knowledge of them!

Monteath's camp at Bootkhak, the first halting-place on the Jellalabad
road, was sharply attacked on the night of the 9th, and the assailants,
many of whom were the armed retainers of chiefs living in Cabul sent out
specially to take part in the attack, although unsuccessful, inflicted on
Monteath considerable loss. Next day Sale, with H.M.'s 13th, joined
Monteath, and on the 13th he forced the long and dangerous ravine of the
Khoord Cabul with sharp fighting, but no very serious loss, although Sale
himself was wounded, and had to relinquish the active command to Colonel
Dennie. Monteath encamped in the valley beyond the pass, and Sale, with
the 13th, returned without opposition to Bootkhak, there to await
reinforcements and transports. In his isolated position Monteath remained
unmolested until the night of the 17th, when he repulsed a Ghilzai attack
made in considerable strength, and aided by the treachery of 'friendly'
Afghans who had been admitted into his camp; but he had many casualties,
and lost a number of camels. On the 20th Sale, reinforced by troops
returned from the Zurmut expedition, moved forward on Monteath, and on
the 22d pushed on to the Tezeen valley, meeting with no opposition either
on the steep summit of the Huft Kotul or in the deep narrow ravine
opening into the valley. The Ghilzais were in force around the mouth of
the defile, but a few cannon-shots broke them up. The advance guard
pursued with over-rashness; the Ghilzais rallied, in the skirmish which
ensued an officer and several men were killed, and the retirement of our
people unfortunately degenerated into precipitate flight, with the
Ghilzais in hot pursuit. The 13th, to which the fugitive detachment
mainly belonged, now consisted mainly of young soldiers, whose constancy
was impaired by this untoward occurrence.

Macnaghten had furnished Sale with a force which, in good heart and
vigorously commanded, was strong enough to have effected great things.
The Ghilzai chief of Tezeen possessed a strong fort full of supplies,
which Dennie was about to attack, when the wily Afghan sent to Major
Macgregor, the political officer accompanying Sale, a tender of
submission. Macgregor fell into the snare, desired Sale to countermand
the attack, and entered into negotiations. In doing so he committed a
fatal error, and he exceeded his instructions in the concessions which he
made. Macnaghten, it was true, had left matters greatly to Macgregor's
discretion; and if 'the rebels were very humble,' the Envoy was not
disposed to be too hard upon them. But one of his firm stipulations was
that the defences of Khoda Buxsh's fort must be demolished, and that Gool
Mahomed Khan 'should have nothing but war.' Both injunctions were
disregarded by Macgregor, who, with unimportant exceptions, surrendered
all along the line. The Ghilzais claimed and obtained the restoration of
their original subsidies; a sum was handed to them to enable them to
raise the tribes in order to keep clear the passes; Khoda Buxsh held his
fort, and sold the supplies it contained to Sale's commissary at a fine
price. Every item of the arrangement was dead in favour of the Ghilzais,
and contributory to their devices. Sale, continuing his march, would be
separated further and further from the now diminished force in Cabul, and
by the feigned submission the chiefs had made they had escaped the
permanent establishment of a strong detachment in their midst at Tezeen.

Macnaghten, discontented though he was with the sweeping concessions
which Macgregor had granted to the Ghilzais, put the best face he could
on the completed transaction, and allowed himself to believe that a
stable settlement had been effected. On the 26th Sale continued his
march, having made up his baggage animals at the expense of the 37th
Native Infantry, which, with half of the sappers and three guns of the
mountain train, he sent back to Kubbar-i-Jubbar, there to halt in a
dangerously helpless situation until transport should be sent down from
Cabul. His march as far as Kutti Sung was unmolested. Mistrusting the
good faith of his new-made allies, he shunned the usual route through the
Purwan Durrah by taking the mountain road to the south of that defile,
and thus reached the Jugdulluk valley with little opposition, baulking
the dispositions of the Ghilzais, who, expecting him to traverse the
Purwan Durrah, were massed about the southern end of the defile, ready to
fall on the column when committed to the tortuous gorge.

From the Jugdulluk camping ground there is a steep and winding ascent of
three miles, commanded until near the summit by heights on either side.
Sale's main body had attained the crest with trivial loss, having
detached parties by the way to ascend to suitable flanking positions, and
hold those until the long train of slow-moving baggage should have
passed, when they were to fall in and come on with the rear-guard. The
dispositions would have been successful but that on reaching the crest
the main body, instead of halting there for the rear to close up, hurried
down the reverse slope, leaving baggage, detachments, and rear-guard to
endure the attacks which the Ghilzais promptly delivered, pressing
fiercely on the rear, and firing down from either side on the confused
mass in the trough below. The flanking detachments had relinquished their
posts in panic, and hurried forward in confusion to get out of the pass.
The rear-guard was in disorder, when Broadfoot, with a few officers and
some of his sappers, valiantly checked the onslaught, but the crest was
not crossed until upwards of 120 men had fallen, the wounded among whom
had to be abandoned with the dead. On October 30th Sale's force reached
Gundamuk without further molestation, and halted there temporarily to
await orders. During the halt melancholy rumours filtered down the passes
from the capital, and later came confirmation of the evil tidings from
the Envoy, and orders from Elphinstone directing the immediate return of
the brigade to Cabul, if the safety of its sick and wounded could be
assured. Sale called a council of war, which pronounced, although not
unanimously, against a return to Cabul; and it was resolved instead to
march on to Jellalabad, which was regarded as an eligible _point d'appui_
on which a relieving force might move up and a retiring force might move
down. Accordingly on November 11th the brigade quitted Gundamuk, and
hurried down rather precipitately, and with some fighting by the way, to
Jellalabad, which was occupied on the 14th.

Some members of the Gundamuk council of war, foremost among whom was
Broadfoot, argued vigorously in favour of the return march to Cabul.
Havelock, who was with Sale as a staff-officer, strongly urged the
further retreat into Jellalabad. Others, again, advocated the middle
course of continuing to hold Gundamuk. It may be said that a daring
general would have fought his way back to Cabul, that a prudent general
would have remained at Gundamuk, and that the occupation of Jellalabad
was the expedient of a weak general. That a well-led march on Cabul was
feasible, although it might have been difficult and bloody, cannot be
questioned, and the advent of such men as Broadfoot and Havelock would
have done much toward rekindling confidence and stimulating the
restoration of soldierly virtue, alike in the military authorities and in
the rank and file of the Cabul force. At Gundamuk, again, the brigade,
well able to maintain its position there, would have made its influence
felt all through the Ghilzai country and as far as Cabul. The evacuation
of that capital decided on, it would have been in a position to give the
hand to the retiring army, and so to avert at least the worst disasters
of the retreat. The retirement on Jellalabad, in the terse language of
Durand, 'served no conceivable purpose except to betray weakness, and
still further to encourage revolt.'

While Sale was struggling through the passes on his way to Gundamuk, our
people at Cabul were enjoying unwonted quietude. Casual entries in Lady
Sale's journal, during the later days of October, afford clear evidence
how utterly unconscious were they of the close gathering of the storm
that so soon was to break upon them. Her husband had written to her from
Tezeen that his wound was fast healing, and that the chiefs were
extremely polite. She complains of the interruption of the mails owing to
the Ghilzai outbreak, but comforts herself with the anticipation of their
arrival in a day or two. She was to leave Cabul for India in a few days,
along with the Macnaghtens and General Elphinstone, and her diary
expresses an undernote of regret at having to leave the snug house in the
cantonments which Sale had built on his own plan, the excellent kitchen
garden in which her warrior husband, in the intervals of his soldiering
duties, grew fine crops of peas, potatoes, cauliflowers and artichokes,
and the parterres of flowers which she herself cultivated, and which were
the admiration of the Afghan gentlemen who came to pay their morning

[Illustration: CABUL the CANTONMENT _and the_ Surrounding COUNTRY.]

The defencelessness of the position at Cabul had long engaged the
solicitude of men who were no alarmists. Engineer officer after engineer
officer had unavailingly and a half from the cantonments, with the Cabul
river intervening. With Shelton's troops and those in the cantonments
General Elphinstone had at his disposition, apart from the Shah's
contingent, four infantry regiments, two batteries of artillery, three
companies of sappers, a regiment of cavalry, and some irregular horse--a
force fully equipped and in good order. In the Balla Hissar Shah Soojah
had a considerable, if rather mixed, body of military and several guns.

The rising of the 2d November may not have been the result of a fully
organised plan. There are indications that it was premature, and that the
revolt in force would have been postponed until after the expected
departure of the Envoy and the General with all the troops except
Shelton's brigade, but for an irrepressible burst of personal rancour
against Burnes. Durand holds, however, that the malcontents acted on the
belief that to kill Burnes and sack the Treasury was to inaugurate the
insurrection with an imposing success. Be this as it may, a truculent mob
early in the morning of November 2d assailed Burnes' house. He at first
regarded the outbreak as a casual riot, and wrote to Macnaghten to that
effect. Having harangued the throng without effect, he and his brother,
along with William Broadfoot his secretary, prepared for defence.
Broadfoot was soon killed, and a little later Burnes and his brother were
hacked to pieces in the garden behind the house. The Treasury was sacked;
the sepoys who had guarded it and Burnes' house were massacred, and both
buildings were fired; the armed mob swelled in numbers, and soon the
whole city was in a roar of tumult.

Prompt and vigorous military action would no doubt have crushed the
insurrection, at least for the time. But the indifference, vacillation
and delay of the British authorities greatly encouraged its rapid
development. Macnaghten at first 'did not think much of it.' Shelton was
ordered into the Balla Hissar, countermanded, a second time ordered, and
again instructed to halt for orders. At last the Envoy himself despatched
him, with the loose order to act on his own judgment in communication
with the Shah. Shelton marched into the Balla Hissar with part of his
force, and the rest of it was moved into the cantonments. When the
Brigadier went to the Shah, that potentate demanded to know who sent him,
and what he had come for. But the Shah, to do him justice, had himself
taken action. Informed that Burnes was attacked and the city in revolt,
he had ordered Campbell's regiment of his own levies and a couple of guns
to march to his assistance. Campbell recklessly attempted to push his way
through the heart of the city, instead of reaching Burnes' house by a
circuitous but opener route, and after some sharp street fighting in
which he lost heavily, he was driven back, unable to penetrate to the
scene of plunder and butchery. Shelton remained inactive in the Balla
Hissar until Campbell was reported beaten and retreating, when he took
some feeble measures to cover the retreat of the fugitives, who, however,
abandoned their guns outside the fortress. The day was allowed to pass
without anything further being done, except the despatch of an urgent
recall to Major Griffiths, whom Sale had left at Kubbar-i-Jubbar, and
that good soldier, having fought every step of the way through the
passes, brought in his detachment in unbroken order and without loss of
baggage, notwithstanding his weakness in transport. Shelton, reinforced
in the Balla Hissar, maintained an intermittent and ineffectual fire on
the city. Urgent orders were despatched to Sale, recalling him and his
brigade--orders with which, as has been mentioned, Sale did not
comply--and also to Nott, at Candahar, begging him to send a brigade to
Cabul. In compliance with this requisition, Maclaren's brigade
immediately started from Candahar, but soon returned owing to the
inclemency of the weather.

Captain Mackenzie was in charge of a fort containing the Shah's
commissariat stores; this fort was on the outskirts of a suburb of Cabul,
and was fiercely attacked on the 2d. For two days Mackenzie maintained
his post with unwearying constancy. His garrison was short of water and
of ammunition, and the fort was crowded with women and children, but he
held on resolutely until the night of the 3d. No assistance was sent, no
notice, indeed, of any kind was taken of him; his garrison was
discouraged by heavy loss, and by the mines which the enemy were pushing
forward. At length, when the gate of the fort had been fired, and his
wounded were dying for lack of medical aid, he evacuated the fort, and
fought his way gallantly into cantonments, bringing in his wounded and
the women and children. With this solitary exception the Afghans had
nowhere encountered resistance, and the strange passiveness of our people
encouraged them to act with vigour. From the enclosed space of the Shah
Bagh, and the adjacent forts of Mahmood Khan and Mahomed Shereef, they
were threatening the Commissariat fort, hindering access to it, and
besetting the south-western flank of the cantonments. A young officer
commanded the hundred sepoys garrisoning the Commissariat fort; he
reported himself in danger of being cut off, and Elphinstone gave orders
that he and his garrison should be brought off, and the fort and its
contents abandoned. Several efforts to accomplish the withdrawal were
thwarted by the Afghan flanking fire, with the loss of several officers
and many men. The commissary officer urged on the General the disastrous
consequences which the abandonment of the fort would entail, containing
as it did all the stores, adding that in cantonments there were only two
days' supplies, without prospect of procuring any more. Orders were then
sent to Warren to hold out to the last extremity; which instructions he
denied having received. Early in the morning of the 5th troops were
preparing to attack the Afghan fort and reinforce the Commissariat fort,
when Warren and his garrison reached the cantonments. The gate of the
Commissariat fort had been fired, but the enemy had not effected an
entrance, yet Warren and his people had evacuated the fort through a hole
cut in its wall. Thus, with scarcely a struggle to save it, was this
vital fort allowed to fall into the enemy's hands, and thenceforward our
unfortunate people were to be reduced to precarious and scanty sources
for their food.

From the 5th to the 9th November there was a good deal of desultory
fighting, in the course of which, after one failure, Mahomed Shereef's
fort was stormed by a detachment of our people, under the command of
Major Griffiths; but this success had little influence on the threatening
attitude maintained by the Afghans. On the 9th, owing to the mental and
physical weakness of poor General Elphinstone, Brigadier Shelton was
summoned into cantonments from the Balla Hissar, bringing with him part
of the garrison with which he had been holding the latter post. The hopes
entertained that Shelton would display vigour, and restore the confidence
of the troops, were not realised. He from the first had no belief in the
ability of the occupants of the cantonment to maintain their position,
and he never ceased to urge prompt retreat on Jellalabad. From the purely
military point of view he was probably right; the Duke of Wellington
shared his opinion when he said in the House of Lords: 'After the first
few days, particularly after the negotiations at Cabul had commenced, it
became hopeless for General Elphinstone to maintain his position.'
Shelton's situation was unquestionably a very uncomfortable one, for
Elphinstone, broken as he was, yet allowed his second in command no
freedom of action, and was testily pertinacious of his prerogative of
command. If in Shelton, who after his manner was a strong man, there had
been combined with his resolution some tact and temper, he might have
exercised a beneficial influence. As it was he became sullen and
despondent, and retired behind an 'uncommunicative and disheartening
reserve.' Brave as he was, he seems to have lacked the inspiration which
alone could reinvigorate the drooping spirit of the troops. In a word,
though he probably was, in army language, a 'good duty soldier,' he
certainly was nothing more. And something more was needed then.

Action on Shelton's part became necessary the day after he came into
cantonments. The Afghans occupied all the forts on the plain between the
Seah Sung heights and the cantonments, and from the nearest of them, the
Rikabashee fort, poured in a heavy fire at close range, which the return
artillery fire could not quell. On Macnaghten's urgent requisition the
General ordered out a strong force, under Shelton, to storm the obnoxious
fort. Captain Bellew missed the gate, and blew open merely a narrow
wicket, but the storming party obeyed the signal to advance. Through a
heavy fire the leaders reached the wicket, and forced their way in,
followed by a few soldiers. The garrison of the fort hastily evacuated
it, and all seemed well, when a sudden stampede ensued--the handful
which, led by Colonel Mackrell of the 44th and Lieutenant Bird of the
Shah's force, had already entered the fort, remaining inside it. The
runaway troops were rallied with difficulty by Shelton and the
subordinate officers, but a call for volunteers from the European
regiment was responded to but by one solitary Scottish private. After a
second advance, and a second retreat--a retreat made notwithstanding
strong artillery and musketry support--Shelton's efforts brought his
people forward yet again, and this time the fort was occupied in force.
Of those who had previously entered it but two survivors were found. The
Afghans, re-entering the fort, had hacked Mackrell to pieces and
slaughtered the men who tried to escape by the wicket. Lieutenant Bird
and a sepoy, from a stable the door of which they had barricaded with
logs of wood, had fended off their assailants by a steady and deadly
fire, and when they were rescued by the entrance of the troops they had
to clamber out over a pile of thirty dead Afghans whom the bullets of the
two men had struck down.

It had come to our people in those gloomy days, to regard as a 'triumph'
a combat in which they were not actually worsted; and even of such
dubious successes the last occurred on November 13, when the Afghans,
after having pressed our infantry down the slopes of the Behmaroo ridge,
were driven back by artillery fire, and forced by a cavalry charge to
retreat further, leaving behind them a couple of guns from which they had
been sending missiles into the cantonments. One of those guns was brought
in without difficulty, but the other the Afghans covered with their
jezail fire. The Envoy had sent a message of entreaty that 'the triumph
of the day' should be completed by its capture. Major Scott of the 44th
made appeal on appeal, ineffectually, to the soldierly feelings of his
men, and while they would not move the sepoys could not be induced to
advance. At length Eyre spiked the piece as a precautionary measure, and
finally some men of the Shah's infantry succeeded in bringing in the
prize. The return march of the troops into cantonments in the dark, was
rendered disorderly by the close pressure of the Afghans, who, firing
incessantly, pursued the broken soldiery up to the entrance gate.


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